Karen Buxton, KF10, Liberia
The Liberians United for Haiti Relief Concert took place last weekend at one of Monrovia’s large outdoor stadiums. “Please give to Haiti! We know what it is like to have nothing, so let us give to a country that has just been devastated,” cried the Master of Ceremonies. The boisterous crowd raised their hands and cheered in approval.
Several thousand Liberians attended the relief concert to show their support of earthquake stricken Haiti, and they raised nearly $3,000 USD. With Liberia being the 20th poorest nation in the world and having an average annual income of $362 per person, I saw the concert as a noteworthy sign of the transitions currently in progress. The 14-year civil war, which officially ended only seven years ago, resulted in one tenth of the population losing their lives and left the country in ruins. Poverty and corruption are still rampant, with 80% of the population below the poverty line. I believe an event like this speaks to the generous and empathetic character of Liberians, and it was inspiring to see this kind of support for another country in need. Liberians are rebuilding their lives, and the benefit concert for Haiti was a particularly poignant reminder of just how far Liberia has come in recent years.
When reading statistics, the situation here can sound absolutely bleak. For example, according to the CIA World Factbook, unemployment in Liberia stands at 85%. When I first heard this statistic, I thought – how can that be possible? How is unemployment defined? Does this statistic really mean that 85% of Liberians are not working and therefore have no income? Having been here for two weeks, I can easily answer this question with a resounding no! The streets are filled with lively vendors selling everything from deep-fried plantains with spicy pepper sauce to cell phones to baguettes to West African hip-hop and reggae CD’s to fresh pineapple and bananas. There is a sense of hope that is tangible, and far more than 15% of the population is working hard to make a living in Liberia. I can see that people are eager and even desperate to work, and Liberia has a special opportunity to get on its feet.
So what does all of this mean for microfinance in Liberia? The entrepreneurial spirit is clearly alive and well, and so the timing is right for microfinance to play a significant role in Liberia’s post-conflict economic development. Liberians are even feeling empowered now to give to others in need, and I have been touched and moved by what I’ve seen in my two short weeks here. Much more to come from this remarkable country!