June 11, 2012
Our Executive Director, Kara Gerson, just returned from Liberia, where she visited our completed project there, monitored our partner on the ground, FACE Africa, and scouted new sites. She also found time to make some friends and do a little shopping for our African Bazaar! We asked her to report back on the trip:
Hi Voss Foundation supporters! I just came back from an amazing two weeks in Liberia with our partners FACE Africa! Liberia is a fascinating country recovering from 14 years of civil war; I encourage you to read more about it on our Liberia page.
We began working with FACE Africa in Liberia in 2011, when we first partnered with them on our 2011 Women Helping Women dedicated water project. That project, at the Hope Mission School, consisted of a hand-pump, latrines, and handwashing station. The water system was completed and turned over to the community officially in December 2011. You can see photos of the implementation and dedication here.
On this trip, May – June 2012, we were hosted by the lovely Saran Kaba Jones, our 2011 Women Helping Women honoree and founder of FACE Africa, as well as FACE’s Program Administrator, Emmett Wilson.
The project was a great success and both the community and the school were thrilled about it. It may seem obvious to say so, but that’s not always the case. We’ve encountered communities, who were not involved in the planning and implementation, skeptical of a well-meaning but poorly-planned water project, or even reject it outright. We require all of our implementation partners to work closely with the community, and I’m happy to say it was clear from my trip that FACE Africa complies!
While families come to fetch water every day at the hand-pump, usually in the mornings and evenings, the students are able to enjoy fresh, clean water whenever they want during the school day – still a novelty in rural areas! The girl on the right drinking from the pump was a real firecracker, named Josephine. Josephine and I became fast friends.
We visited the school a number of times throughout the trip, building relationships and checking on the cleanliness of the latrines (which were always spotless, even when we made surprise visits!). On our first visit, at a welcoming ceremony, students performed skits about how clean water is making them healthy, and about proper usage of latrines and hand-washing. The latter two provided the opportunity for a lot of silliness and laughter, but the message came across loud and clear: clean water and sanitation save lives!
I got rather emotional at the welcoming ceremony, as I do whenever we visit a project. It is just so unbelievable to see how our hard work in Europe and the U.S. translates to life-changing water projects in Africa! The community generously showered us with gifts, and gave me a Bassa name. Bassa are one of about 12 tribes in Liberia, and the Hope Mission School is in a Bassa area. My Bassa name is Dekontee, which means “everything has a time;” as in, it was finally time for them to get clean water. Feel free to call me that from now on – everyone in the Bernard Farm Community does!
We visited another FACE Africa clean water project in progress in Williamtown, where we observed workers digging the well and constructing the latrines. It was great to be alongside our partners as they met with the community and built that crucial relationship. An elder died while we were there, so we made a donation towards the family’s funeral costs and bought them a bag of rice. We wanted to show that we are friends, and not strangers who will sever ties once implementation is complete.
Throughout the trip, we saw just how important it is to maintain that connection when we encountered abandoned broken handpumps all over the place. We would ask the community members what had happened and the story was always the same: the NGO didn’t train the community in maintenance, never came back after implementation, and had not left any way to get in touch. The government officials we met with were sorry to confirm this; estimates put the rate of failure for most water points in Africa between 30-50%.
Until the Williamtown project is complete, women will continue to have to fetch water from the creek, which they also use for washing and as a toilet. You can see above just how dirty that water is in the photo I took in Williamtown on May 30th. In this photo to the left, the girl on the far right carrying water, Naomi, is an absolute sweetheart, and the girl in the middle has two adorable babies – I am so excited for them to grow up healthy with clean water!
We traveled 4 hours each way to Rivercess County, where FACE Africa will be concentrating their future efforts; therefore, Rivercess is likely to be the location of our next water project in Liberia. Rivercess County is a beautiful place but extremely poor with enormous need. Fortunately, it has a some really dynamic and effective leaders in place making great things happen! Here is a picture of me with the ladies of Rivercess, including the Mayor of its capital, Cestos City, and the Commissioner for Rural Women (far left).
We also did some shopping for our African Bazaar! I loved meeting the artisans creating the gorgeous crafts and goods that I brought back to share at our Women Helping Women events and on the online bazaar. It was perfect timing for our Boston event coming up June 20th, especially since we’d nearly sold out after the event at Old Salem Farm last month! Not only do the items raise vital funds for the Voss Foundation, but our purchase of them in-country supports enterprise, development, and women’s empowerment!
Finally, we were accompanied on the trip by award-winning New York- and Paris-based photographer, Braden Summers. Braden was extraordinarily generous to volunteer his talents, with travel costs covered by an Indiegogo campaign. (Thank you, Indiegogo supporters!) We did only get back on June 9th, so he is still editing the thousands of photos he took, but you can find a sneak peak on his Tumblr. I can’t wait to share with you all of his amazing images of our work once it is done, he will illustrate everything much more beautifully than our amateur shots you see here.