Let’s start with some sad news: Life is difficult for mothers in Liberia. The struggles, however, don’t start at pregnancy — they begin when girls eat nutritionally deficient diets, putting their bodies at a developmental disadvantage for surviving the stress of birthing later in life. Insufficient education leads to illiterate young women who cannot read health or medication instructions, hindering care for themselves and their families. Many never finish school leading to a lack of skills needed for higher paying jobs so earning a living wage is a persistent predicament. Family finances dictate healthcare choices between relatively expensive drugs and free — often ineffective and sometimes dangerous — “country medicine” or “traditional healing”. Women are frequently very young when having a first child, increasing the risk for complications during delivery or subsequent health impacts like fistulas. Hospitals and clinics are often under-staffed, ill-equipped and not well-maintained. Household responsibilities are disproportionately the burden of women so chores like hauling water do not end just because of “big belly”, as pregnancy is called in Liberia.
A 2017 study by the World Bank ranks Liberia 178th out of 186 countries with 661 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to the US which is ranked 56th with 19 per 100,000. (FYI – We have a lot of improving to do considering Belarus and Kazakhstan are significantly safer places to give birth than America). The United Nations says, “Liberia has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. In the remote areas, infrastructure and facilities in clinics are often lacking; midwives and health workers have to deliver babies without any electricity at night.” During our trip in February, Kathy spoke to a woman in the village who just experienced birthing complications. Neighbor women described how the situation during labor in her mud home turned frightening, and family members decided to put her on a motorbike — yes, while actively giving birth — trying to get her to the hospital. The child didn’t survive the bumpy journey. Recovering at home just days later, the mother was in horrible pain from a severe infection. She left the hospital with a prescription for antibiotics but had no money to purchase the medication, putting her life in jeopardy as well.
And now for some good news: Kathy was able to support this suffering woman who was enduring both physical and emotional pain. For less than $5 she received life-saving antibiotics and other prescribed drugs. Within the week there was a night-and-day change in her — pain was gone, swelling was reduced, and her eyes were brighter. This less-than-a-Starbucks-visit support had gone beyond simply laying out cash. Hugging together at the doorway of her home they shared a mother-to-mother bond; a love and concern for “the least of these” that inspired hope through compassion and physical healing. It’s this personal, one-on-one care that gives our mission the greatest impact.
Gbarnga Mission is working to address the education component in the village of Deanville and the surrounding communities. Our school, GLTC, has 80 students with many sponsors who help keep school fees low. We scrutinize the boy:girl ratio, emphasizing to parents the importance of girl enrollment, and are developing a scholarship program to ensure longer-term participation into higher grade levels. We’re not only educating elementary children, we’re teaching literacy to adults — mostly mothers.
A mother (and grandmother) named Sonnie recently told me that before attending this class and learning to identify letters of the alphabet and read beginner words, her husband would yell at her for throwing away papers she thought were trash, but were actually important documents like birth certificates. She now recognizes them and has learned the significance to their children’s future. She has also learned to write a shopping list for items in the market and how to follow basic written healthcare instructions. We’ve also educated about malaria prevention and distributed bed nets to keep mothers and their families safe and healthy.
Perhaps this Mother’s Day, you’d like to share a gift with your Mom that fulfills a dream for many mothers in West Africa — the gift of education for a child in Liberia. Or support our adult literacy classes and help your Mom educate another Mom. In these days of coronavirus, we talk a lot about being “together-apart”. Go extremely “apart” — thousands of miles apart — this year by coming “together” with a mother in Liberia to support them or their child’s future. Contribute to our mission or sponsor a child in honor of your Mom.
Either way, there’s a Mom in Liberia that will thank you!