Last Week in Liberia (for now)

Friends-

I write this post (my second to last) with only a few more days to go in beautiful Liberia. I absolutely cannot believe that my three-month stay is coming to an end, as it seems like yesterday that I was stepping off the plane in this new and different world.

This past week was a wonderful note to end on. The same workshop participants that were here when I arrived at DEN-L for their second phase of the DELTA leadership and good governance workshop returned this week for their third phase (there are four phases in DEN-L’s DELTA training program) and will be seeing me off…quite appropriate if you ask me.

I helped to facilitate this past week’s workshop, which covered topics such as executing participatory community education and awareness programs, gender awareness, and environmental issues in Liberia. One exercise consisted of the identification of “codes,” or prevalent development issues facing communities, by participants grouped in teams. Each team prepared an illustration or skit to represent their issue of choice and planned a lesson for the workshop involving how to communicate the issue to the communities in which they live, how to encourage others to recognize root causes and effects, and development responses to the problems at hand. Some of the issues addressed included girls’ education, hunger, low school attendance rates and agricultural issues. The presentations caused the group at large to think more in-depth about the issues at hand and helped develop good facilitation and leadership skills for the group members presenting each topic. The goal of our workshops is to leave participants with the skills and determination to bring what they’ve learned back to their communities in order to make a lasting effect.

On the first day of the workshop, it became clear to me that a lesson on gender equality was necessary. As I have mentioned in past blog posts, I have been working on both DEN-L’s Civic Action Program (CAP) and its Gender Action Program (GAP) this summer. The DELTA workshops are part of CAP’s undertakings, so they focus on sound governance and leadership and rarely include much on gender. After hearing some of the male participants talking about how men are always right because they are the household heads and how domestic abuse is normal part of family life, I made it a point to incorporate a lesson on gender, which I taught to the group the following day.

List of work ascribed to men in Liberia compiled by male workshop participants. Note the "Man can beat woman" at the bottom. I made them cross it off.

During one portion of my lesson, participants gathered into groups based on their sex and listed all the work that is typically expected of their respective sexes in Liberia (you may recall this exercise, as it was mentioned in a previous blog post of mine). The point is for participants to recognize all the work that women in Liberia do, as it is often far more than what the men do and is rarely appreciated because it is unpaid and is therefore considered insignificant. I was appalled when the men included “men can beat woman” on their list of male tasks. I tried to address the issue in an understanding and calm manner despite my fury and shock. I found myself nearly giving up hope on the issue as I went along; I’m only here for a few more days and these are socially constructed mind frames that have been ingrained in these men (and women!) since birth. What can I do to change them? I quickly reminded myself that every piece of information and enlightenment I can impart is important and valuable. I found that the conversations I had with participants that evening after dinner allowed me to further gain an understanding of their culture’s attitudes towards such issues and to prompt them to think about the implications of these attitudes for the future of the country. I’ve discovered that gender equality has really become a developmental passion of mine since coming to DEN-L because I think a lot of the social, health, political and economic issues that face Liberia stem from the oppression of women and girls. Although I know I have not been able to completely change the people I’ve worked with, I am hoping that I at least was able to enlighten them with new ideas and encourage them to view their situations critically. I must remind myself that my work in Africa has just begun and this experience is a primer for what is to come.

Wehaty helping me put on my new African suit...a farewell gift from DEN-L

On a lighter note, today both the DEN-L staff and the workshop participants held a farewell party for me during which a representative from each section of DEN-L and from the participants said a few appreciative words about me and I made a little speech myself. I was presented with a beautiful African suit that the DEN-L staff had tailored to my size. We ate, drank Club Beer, and rejoiced. Afterwards, my colleague Sis Betty taught me how to cook a Liberian dish (potato greens with fried fish). I was reminded today how special this place is and how incredible the people I’ve met here are. They have gone out of their way to welcome me, teach me, and try to learn from me. It will certainly be difficult to leave.

In peace,

Anna

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