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Maternal Health Blog

CARE Learning Tour Travels To Liberia

Marino Liberia 20120110034031_400
Giulia McPherson is traveling in Liberia and Ghana on a CARE Learning Tour, a comprehensive, multi-day tour for policymakers and those who can influence policy, to gain firsthand knowledge of the core issues poor communities face. She is the Deputy Director for Citizen Advocacy with CARE USA”s Policy and Advocacy Unit. To learn more about the Learning Tours program, please visit: www.care.org/learningtours.

The country of Liberia is building itself back from more than two decades of political instability, including a 14-year civil war that ended in 2003 and cost the lives of more than 200,000 people. The war destroyed most of Liberia”s basic infrastructure, making it nearly impossible for Liberians to grow their own crops. As a result, chronic malnutrition is a tremendous impediment to the country”s development – in fact, an estimated 35 percent of Liberians are malnourished and 39 percent of children under five years old are stunted.

On CARE”s latest Learning Tour, we”re exploring the critical 1,000 days between a woman”s pregnancy and her child”s second birthday. It is during this period that malnutrition poses the greatest threat to the long-term health of mothers and children, affecting the economic development of families, communities and entire nations. If we can address poor nutrition and its causes, including the ability of families to feed themselves a proper, balanced diet, then we can make tremendous strides in breaking the cycle of poverty.

Today, a delegation of U.S. policymakers and other leaders – including Congressmen Tom Marino (R-PA) and Bobby Rush (D-IL) – visited two CARE-supported programs that address the issues of chronic poverty and malnutrition in Liberia.

The first is the Farmer Resource Center – a coalition of centers that empower women, including war widows, and men – to grow crops that nourish their families, sustain the rainy season and generate additional income for their families. The program includes training on entrepreneurship, marketing and book-keeping skills.

[photo of women in the fields; Rep. Marino with program participants]

The second is a Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA), which CARE coordinates on the outskirts of Monrovia in an area called “Peace Island.’ The inhabitants of this community are primarily individuals displaced by the war, including former combatants. Since CARE first introduced VSLA”s to this community in 2010, over 72 groups have been formed, comprised of 1,700 participants. Over 80 percent of the participants are women and the groups have generated $60,000 USD in loans.

One woman, Jimama Gbarnja, joined the VSLA in 2010 and has taken out three loans. The first one was to pay for her children”s school fees; the second was to construct her home, and the third was to start a business selling coal, which is used for fuel. During the visit, Jimama spoke to the delegation after one of her VSLA meetings: “The savings group allowed me to put my children in school and taught me how to save my own money, accept a loan and then pay it back.’

[photo of Jimama speaking during VSLA meeting]

[photo of Sata Benjamin, VSLA Chairwoman, in front of her store]

The delegation concluded its first day by taking part in a special meeting with 2011 Nobel Laureate, Leymah Gbowee. Ms. Gbowee was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, alongside Liberia”s President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen. She launched a peace movement led by women, which helped end Liberia”s civil war. She continues to work on behalf of human rights in her country as coordinator of Liberia”s National Reconciliation Initiative. She noted during her remarks that, “as leaders, we must reignite the culture of hope to address the challenges that still face our country and its people.’

[photo of Leymah Gbowee with Rep. Bobby Rush]

Posted by on Jan 10, 2012 4:49 PM US/Eastern

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