Welcome! This blog documents my experience as a Nancy Germeshausen Klavans Cultural Bridge Fellow with the Liberian Ministry of Gender and Development during my studies at the Harvard Kennedy School.

The views expressed are solely my own and are written to share experiences, introduce issues, and initiate conversation. Thank you for reading!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Celebrating Independence Day at the Ministry of Gender

Independence Day to Liberia is somewhat like the 4th of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas are to the United States. Its a day when government and businesses are closed, everyone gets together to celebrate with a family meal, and kids beg their parents for gifts. In a country where celebrations aren't all that frequent, the 26th of July was more than just a recognition of the country's 160th anniversary, it was a chance for Liberians to celebrate something.

One of my holiday highlights was witnessing the excitement among my co-workers at the Ministry of Gender. The Ministry gave an Independence Day gift of one bag of rice (market price of US$ 25) to each employee. Seeing every one's faces during the announcement of the rice giveaway was quite humbling. Their excitement and gratitude was genuine and overflowing.

For each of them, the rice meant the provision of one month of the staple food for their families. For many, the value of the rice was just short of their monthly salary of $30. In a country with unemployment rates at 85%, one might expect a great level of gratitude from the average Liberian upon the gift of a month's supply of rice. However, in many ways, it was shocking to see such appreciation spilling from those who have secure, formal employment - a sure sign that even the above-average Liberians still live on the margins of a minimal standard of living.

Beyond being another reminder of the harsh reality for most Liberians, I couldn't help but feel touched by the rice distribution. The money to purchase the rice came from staff contributions to a "general staff support" fund - collected during the (optional) Wednesday morning prayer service, just as a collection would be taken up at a church service. Those who have the means put in more; those with less put in what they can. The Minister then uses this money to give something back to the staff. Perhaps the most touching aspect of this process is that no one hesitates to contribute, and yet, they received the rice announcement with gratitude and surprise, rather than entitlement and expectation. Witnessing this event reminded me of the power of simple generosity. Now that's something for Liberians to celebrate.

Jallah, the nighttime security guard and daytime janitor for the Ministry of Gender, standing with the bags of rice.

1 comment:

African Dream Academy said...

Good morning Emily,

I have been reading and commenting on the blogs of you and your fellow students who went to Liberia.
I am Samuel Enders president of the (africandreamacademy.org)
Please accept my thanks and appreciation for taking the step of going to my country Liberia. As I read your blog like many of your friends who went to Liberia I am encourage to go back home.

I came here 9 years ago to study and return home. I have completed my bachelors and masters and am I am working towards that dream.

Those of you, who are able to go in and out of Liberia with a fresh look, touch me and give me the courage to continue working towards my dream for my fellow Liberians.
I want to plan properly and execute my plan with passion and sustainability.

As a student from one of the world's most prestigious schools, what advice can you give me? Seeing the needs that exist in Liberia is there anything you can do to help or is this close book since you came back? I am not speaking in terms of money; I think you have great ideas to make a lasting impact in Liberia.

The African Dream Academy which is a non-for profit board governed entity, will be appreciative to take your priceless advice and service.

Thanks Zack, please know that you made a difference.