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!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

If ignorance is bliss, why drown yourself in harsh realities?

Terrifying, sickening, unbelievable, extremely interesting, challenging…

I’ve received quite a few reactions to the last blog posting on the statistics of women in the Liberia. To abandon ignorance and truly absorb this reality is startling and frankly, quite depressing. So, why do it?

A friend directed me to a blog posting about Molly and my reflections on Liberia. The author concludes his discussion about my compassionate technocrat posting by stating that it is easy to understand why persons like myself become disheartened, so to say, and take jobs to maximize financial security. Yes, on the surface, the discouragements certainly seem to outnumber the successes in this line of work. Confronting histories of corrupt, oppressive governments and unequal societies understandably drive well-intentioned people away from development policy work.

But perhaps we should be focused on understanding the opposite. Rather than sympathizing with those who abandon the challenge of development, how do we understand those who have an unshakeable devotion to it?

How do you live your life looking at the monstrous triangle of poverty, inequality, and war and harness the energy to challenge it?

This was nature of the first question I asked the 68-year-old President, known as the “Iron Lady”. After so many years working towards the development of Africa (serving positions in both the private and public sectors), what kept her going? What gave her the energy to lead a country challenged by reconciliation, corruption, extreme poverty and a collapsed economy?

She said came back to take the challenge of leading Liberia because she saw “the possibility for transformation.”

Madam President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

Oh yes, we must remain hopeful. In the face of destruction and desperation, we cannot fall into the trap of despair. Easy to say, but slightly more difficult to do.

I’ll admit, I’m not overly optimistic about Liberia’s future, particularly in the short run. In fact, a thorough examination of any one barrier to development (infrastructure, job creation, reintegration of ex-combatants, low levels of education, the status of women, etc.) can be more daunting than thinking about the macro picture of the country (bad history but rich in natural resources). Considering the challenge, how much of a possibility is there? How do you look at the status of women in this country and find energy rather than despair?

Somewhere in the bottom of this mess, I agree with the President, there remains the possibility for transformation. Despite the tragedy – the broken villages, raped women, hungry children, scarred combatants – I still believe that an innate Good within humankind can never be destroyed. Women have not lost hope in their ability to rebuild this nation, fathers still sacrifice to send their children to school, and children smile acceptingly at the sight of a new face.

Sure, the statistics are staggering and the challenge is grand. Without doubt, my 3 months of work in Liberia’s Ministry of Gender will have minuscule to no effect on the status of women in this country. However, I wholeheartedly believe that no matter how discouraging the odds, work towards a more just society a Good in itself.

By harnessing this Goodness (however your faith and beliefs might define it), I believe we transform ourselves and hold the potential to transform society. Be it through our work as farmers, traders, technocrats, lawyers, activists, humanitarians, private sector developers, teachers or parents. Somehow we must harness energy from mere possibility of transforming our unequal world.

I look at the example of Liberia’s president. She’s no guarantee. But she certainly exemplifies “possibility”.

The value of that possible transformation, no matter how far off, gives me ample reason to abandon ignorance, stare harsh reality in its face, and critically think about what role I am called to play in the transformation.
Even if it is just a possibility.

Madam President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf


Nancy said...

very powerful posting.. Good luck.. hope you stay in touch with your possiblity during your stay in Liberia!

Dana said...

well said, em ;-)