In a church building in the heart of Monrovia, Liberia, a small group of women gathered over the course of a few days to talk about their hopes for themselves and the other women in their neighborhoods. The phrase they repeated over and over was “become somebody.” They wanted to have the opportunity to become somebody, and they envisioned a future in which other women — particularly those who are vulnerable and living in poverty — would have the same opportunity. And they believed local churches should be leading this effort.
Their dreams have turned into the Empowering Women with Dignity project, which centers on vocational training. Through the project, they are working to see vulnerable women equipped with skills that enable them to provide for their families, experience dignity and confidence, and live as valued and respected contributors within their families and communities.
A mother’s motivation
“I want a better life,” said Marie, a Monrovian woman. “I’m not educated. I want my children to know something.”
Marie, 44, is learning to sew clothing at a tailoring class she attends at Grace Chapel Church of the Nazarene, located in New Kru Town. Marie’s life — and those of most of the people in this dense urban neighborhood — have been marked by poverty.
“I never went to school,” Marie said. “As a child, I worked for my aunt.”
When she was a young girl, Marie’s mother sent her to live with extended family. The expectation was that the aunt would send Marie to school. Instead, she treated her niece like a slave.
“She treated me very bad,” Marie said. “I had no rest ever. From early in the morning, I was working, working, working. From 7 years old, I was selling in the market for my aunt.”
At 15, Marie ran away and found her mother. Her mother wanted to send her back to school, but then civil war broke out, and those plans became impossible. Then Marie became a mother at 19.
Today, she has five daughters, including four children ages 7 to 19, but only two are able to live with her. The others are with an uncle, who can afford to cover their school fees and give them a chance at education.
“I’m very sad not to be able to see my children,” Marie said. “I want them to be beside me.”
Marie’s goal is to start a tailoring shop so she can provide for her children’s basic needs and also ensure that they finish school, so they have opportunities for success in the future.
“If God blesses me and I get a business, I can take care of them,” Marie said.
Louise, 40, enrolled in a tailoring class at Grace Chapel for similar reasons. In their New Kru Town home, she and her husband care for six children, ages 5 to 13, including three who are children of relatives. Her husband works hard as a math teacher, but they can’t afford to meet the children’s needs on a teacher’s salary.
Louise has what she calls “a little business” selling coal, but tailoring skills will allow her to start a more profitable and sustainable business.
“I can pay tuition, clothes, food, and shelter for my children,” Louise said. “It’s difficult now because I’m not making much income.”
Her hope for the children in her care is to see them doing better and to be better educated.
“I want them to be self-sufficient,” Marie said. “I want a better future for my family.”
Louise notes that most of the women in her neighborhood want their children to have a future, but they don’t have a way to do that.
Passing on knowledge
Women from local Nazarene churches in Monrovia have come together to equip other women to create better futures for themselves and their families through the Empowering Women with Dignity project. Three churches serve as centers that offer vocational courses, savings groups, and life skills workshops. In addition to tailoring, women come to learn catering, soap making, and fabric design.
When Mamie, 50, was widowed, she was left to care for three school-aged children, ages 12 to 16, as well as other family members. Needing a way to provide for their needs, she enrolled in a catering class.
After completing the course, Mamie was offered a job from a Liberian government official to provide catering services to the workers on his farm for nine months. Not only was she able
to use her income to put food on the family’s table, but she was also able to ensure her children can attend school.
However, Mamie wasn’t satisfied to simply care for her own family. She was inspired to use her knowledge to help other women. In her small community on the outskirts of Monrovia, many families are living in extreme poverty. Mamie saw baking as a way to help them earn some income, so she started her own class with 20 women.
“So many people don’t have money to feed their children,” Mamie said.
While the catering classes at the church centers have the advantage of large ovens and a stock of kitchen tools, the women in Mamie’s class use what they have at home. They bake by covering outdoor stoves with pieces of galvanized roofing sheets, and they stir their batter with glass bottles.
Even though the equipment is simple, the women in the class have been able to sell their baked goods to support their families. The group has been selling cornbread, donuts, and cookies in their community.
With the income they’ve earned, the women have been able to cover the cost of their children’s school fees.
"We came together to do something for ourselves,” said one of Mamie’s students. “When we learn, we can do businesses for our very own selves. I feel proud. A little bit of happiness came to me.”
Mamie’s husband was a pastor, and she sees this class as an extension of the ministry they started together.
“God cares about this,” Mamie said. “I pray for the community to be changed.”
--Republished with permission from the Winter 2018 edition of NCM Magazine
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