It's a sad fact of history that women's bodies become "battlefields" in situations of armed conflict. Rape, trafficking, maiming and death are among the immediate threats women face when war breaks out. But the long-term effects of conflict can be severe, too, especially when women face sexual violence during war. This is true of the women of Bong and Lofa Counties in Liberia, many of whom were victims of rape during the civil war in their country. The obstacles they face providing for themselves and their children are serious, especially when coupled with the insufficient education they can access in Liberia.
Recently, the Liberian government has tried to make strides in improving the quality of and access to education, especially for women and girls. Still, though, less than half of the adult population is literate. Recognizing the importance of literacy, the Lutheran Church in Liberia (LCL) in 2014 has started the "Young and Adult Women Basic Bilingual Literacy Project," intended to help vulnerable women gain the skills they need to feed themselves and their children.
Remember the old saying, "Knowledge is power"? That is certainly true of the women associated with this project, some of whom "were born either before or during the heat of our civil war [and] most of whom are single mothers and solely depend on selling petite market [items] to support their children." Despite their experiences during the long conflict – many of their children were born as a result of rape, according to the LCL – the women are "breadwinners" and vital members of their communities. Yet, their inability to read, write and count large numbers means that they are often on "the losing end" of transactions in the marketplace. Literacy means not only the ability to read and write – it can mean the difference between sustainable and unsustainable livelihood for themselves and their communities.
To support them in their efforts, the LCL will work with rural women in Liberia to teach them basic math and reading, skills that the LCL believes will not only benefit the women themselves but "have great potential to lift their communities from neglect." Because of the skills, creativity and industry of women in these communities, the support offered by LCL's program will have wide-reaching effects.
In addition to teaching nearly 300 women to read and write, the project will also create hundreds of educational resources, train teachers, and establish learning centers in the community. Moreover, the LCL will also teach women and girls basic skills in English, increasing their ability to participate in the marketplace and seek further education.
By listening to the needs – illiteracy, poverty, trauma – and the assets – strong women leaders, industriousness, support for education – in the communities in Liberia, the LCL will implement a program with great potential. As companions of the LCL, the ELCA has been invited to be part of this great work through the support of a grant from ELCA World Hunger. This year, Liberian women will be supported in their work by your gifts to ELCA World Hunger. Together, our communities can move from vulnerability to possibility and from possibility to sustainability. Thank you!
Ryan P. Cumming is the Program Director of Hunger Education for ELCA World Hunger. You can reach him at Ryan.Cumming@ELCA.org.