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, August 5, 2007

Gbarpolu: wake up call to a different world

Last weekend, four of us took a trip into the interior of Liberia to visit a traditional village called Nyaluwai. The one-night excursion stands out as the highlight of my summer, offering a glimpse into the rural reality of Liberia, its challenges, and the persons who live it.

Nyaluwai is, without question, the poorest, most isolated place I have ever seen. It is only accessible by foot: a short walk from the riverbed if you cross the river in a canoe, or a 11 hour walk from the capital city in the county. Given that our trip was 2 days and 1 night, we undoubtedly took the river route. Not to say that the drive to the river was an easy feat. With dirt roads turned to mud puddles during these rainy months, and bridges that I was concerned to even walk across, our arrival to the river village opposite Nyaluwai was questionable (see entry on accessing Gbarpolu County).

Yet, without a doubt, the takeaways from the experience far outweighed the travel consequences of a sore bum and the near heart attacks on rural roads. My mind and heart are still racing from the sights and reality, and for the first time all summer, I finally felt immersed in the reason I believe we must tirelessly dedicate ourselves to development.

This is humanity. The children are playful with beautiful smiles and the community is generously welcoming. Yet, comparing the standard of living for a woman in Nyaluwai to even a lower class woman in the United States is appalling. Given the technology, knowledge, and global communication at this stage in human history, there is no excuse for a woman to suffer in labor for 3 days before being carried in a hammock across a river and for 12 hours to see a trained midwife and deliver the dead baby. In an incredibly fertile land, why must women spend every hour of daylight in intense labor to farm, process, and cook one daily serving of rice for their families?

Even for the 4 of us who are dedicated to development, this trip was a wake up call. Gender disparities, constraints to educations, labor strains, malnutrition, traditional societies, the lasting effects of war, agricultural practices, subsistence living, democracy, access to health care, and community-led development - the insights were many and I know each of us continue to process and struggle with the challenges we saw and the warm welcome we experienced.

I will be posting a series of blogs reflecting on the weekend. I'm not sure that I can do the community and its citizens justice - but I will try. Their lessons were many and I am honored to be able to pass them along.

***For more information, definitely check out Rupert's blog. He has an incredible synapses of the development challenges and some of our personal takeaways from the experience in Nyaluai. Thanks Rupert!

1 comment:

Mom said...

The pictures are great. I just wish I could have experienced the smiles of those children with you.
I might have gotten sick on the ride there though.I'm sure you will share much more with me once you are home.My love and prayers are with you. Mom