With one week left until I leave, I’m feeling the pressure of having enough materials on hand and sufficient details and drawings for the work crews to continue in my absence. As the walls continue to rise on the first classroom, I went sand shopping once again yesterday. I was taken to a new location that some villagers had been complaining we hadn’t been to for purchasing sand so I gave it a shot. It took forever to get there, crossing open fields then into bush, then through sugar cane fields. I told them I’d buy one truckload then we’d be returning to our former, more convenient, site across the highway from our access road. I spent the morning buying 51 piles of sand. That should take about 2 weeks to haul all of it.
Meanwhile, all of the block machine trainees accompanied by the expert builders from Sam Bundo’s crew who wanted to learn the basic techniques seemed to overwhelm the work site. Just too many workers trying to build one classroom. Today we split the crew to allow the more experienced masons better access to block laying while another group changed the mold in the blockmaking machine to form smaller blocks used for interior room partitioning walls. They use less material (cost savings) and don’t require the strength of the larger blocks because they’re not load-bearing.
Just before lunch, I spent some time talking with Annie, an older woman that sells banana rice bread that she bakes, and Sando, a young woman I posted about earlier who has a very cute daughter, Dusu. Annie sells her banana bread by walking the streets of Gbarnga or coming to our work site (she walks about 30-40 minutes) and brings in $700 LD per day. However, it costs her $500 LD to make the bread so her daily profit is only $200 LD (about $2.25 USD). If she keeps that up 6 days a week (she doesn’t work on Sundays because she’s at church), she would make around $54/month which puts her slightly below the World Bank’s per capita income figures for Liberia. With that, she pays school fees for her 1st and 9th grade children, buys food, etc.
Sando is a single mother of two biological children with a man who now lives in Guinea and doesn’t support the family. Her daughter, Dusu, along with her niece and her mother live in the same home in Deanville. Her son lives in Monrovia with her brother. She makes a living purchasing potato greens and cassava in Gbarnga then selling them by walking the villages near Deanville. Her income is $1,000 LD per month (about $11 USD…I’m not sure what she pays to buy the greens she sells). I asked why she didn’t grow the produce she sells…she doesn’t have land or “a man to prepare the fields”. I tried to encourage her that she doesn’t need a man to have a garden. I talked about how women work harder than most men to better their families and communities while bearing the burden of cooking, cleaning, laundry, child care, hauling water, fetching firewood, etc.
As I walk the school property, I see so much untapped potential in the fertile soil. I’ve got workers removing stumps all over the place so the trees don’t start growing back as they did before. I walked with Sando over to a plot of land that’s almost completely void of stumps now and discussed the possibility of her and some other women starting gardens that would produce food for their families, food to feed our school children, and income for both themselves and the school by selling vegetables. She was very interested. I asked her what she would plant…cassava and potato greens was her response. I told her when I go to markets, all I see is people selling cassava and potato greens so the prices are very very low. I inquired if she would like to earn more money by selling produce that consumers want, but no one is selling like green beans and tomatoes. That, of course, raised her interest even higher. I told her the only requirement if she started a garden on the school campus was that she plant pineapple for me (“quito nay” which means sweet pineapple in Kpelle)!
For a couple of years I’ve been wanting to introduce a sort of women’s agricultural cooperative I’ve dubbed “GROW” – standing for “Gbarnga Rural Organization of Women” (with the obvious meaning behind the acronym). I spoke with Sumo about it and asked him to arrange a meeting with women from Deanville on Sunday afternoon to discuss the concept with them. Sumo is very interested in this type of initiative and has a resource in the church that is an agriculture consultant who could suggest crops to grow. With men from the community learning to use the new blockmaking machine, let’s see if we can get these women’s income to grow, too!