Liberia Study Tour, 2012: Reflections - Day Seven

 

Liberia Study Tour, 2012: Reflections - Day Seven

Posted on July 13, 2012 by Floss Frucher

As all of my predecessors in this journaling exercise have alluded to this week, it is the continual mix of components or “layers” of this program that have made the experience an indelible one. They include:

  1. The visits and all that composed them: hearing from spokespeople, touring projects and meeting Liberians, young and old
  2. The perpetual van discussions among all of us
  3. The group exercises before and after excursions
  4. The meditations on text so caringly and brilliantly led by Sharon.

The total effect has become a heart/mind/soul “transporting” – or, to quote my son Aaron, “life-changing”.

The addition of yesterday to this journey consisted of all those elements, in new forms. At Firestone, I was at something of a disadvantage as the journaler, having unthinkingly taken a seat in the back room so others could take the remaining seats in the main room, only to realize I couldn’t hear anything being said! But the takeaway for me was that the ultimate establishment and subsequent work of the union have at least made conditions for the main employees marginally better – the highlight being the imposition of a prohibition against using children under the age of 18 as laborers – and the very real indication of dedicated future efforts by the union to improve on these achievements. But arrayed against all of this are the horrific remaining disparities between company profits and wages paid; between salaries of the executives and the barely subsistence wages paid to almost everyone else (below the second or third level down). It was interesting to hear last night at dinner, however, that the newly won $4.42 daily salary for tappers (IF one achieves the new, lower required quota of 500 buckets) is competitive with teachers’ salaries in Monrovia’s public schools!

Comments in the van while heading to our second stop:

“You know, this issue of not letting the women do the work of men on the rubber trees because they’re ‘not strong enough’? People who carry children on their backs and heavy weights on their shoulders and heads and walk miles---aren’t STRONG enough??!!”

When a worker who rode with us for a while was handed an Altoid: “This is great! We don’t have these here!”

And a discussion of the weather and its effect on things: “The rainy season isn’t just one month. It’s four or five. That severely limits businesses that try to sell outdoors from securing micro-credit . In fact, it affects all businesses just in terms of getting products to intended destinations.”

On the way to Jola House , we stopped at the airport and gave Ruth a group “goodbye hug”!

Jola House was a thrilling example of productive social enterprise work that is regularly turning out quality clothing and accessories. The truth of that was reflected in our virtually buying out the store! (Pointing the products largely toward women precluded my finding a cute something for my husband Sandy; he’ll have to be satisfied with couch pillow covers. In truth, he’ll love them!) By connecting increasingly with international distributors, this enterprise gives every sign of continuing to grow and begin making a profit soon. The Director, a recently returned expatriate (of whom there are more and more appearing in the country to help it regain its footing) is dynamite!

At the waning of this day, back at the ranch, there could not have been a more welcome sight than the young, talented women of WIPSEN. They were electrifying and brought everything we’d heard all week from women around the country into bold relief as products of those earlier efforts. Leymah’s spirit shined in them.

I can’t conclude this journal without a word about our final dinner and some vignettes of the week that were shared. Letty and Sharon on the women we saw who had been through such horror. The Dube brothers talking about their interaction with those wonderful kids at Imani House. (The Dube brothers were wonderful with the kids they met everywhere!) The praising of the work of Rosalie and Grace by all of us, with Rosalie talking about our group interactions at the various sites throughout the week and our “not dealing with perfect situations here”.

This week has seen some pretty significant involvement in this culture and with our collective selves. The knowledge of what composes what we saw is admittedly “surface” knowledge, but I think it’s been a pretty solid initial education about Liberia, whether by the government itself or by the many people we saw and spoke with – and most particularly all of those admirable, elegant and “ferocious” women, everywhere we went!!