*By Judith Santiago
In the Neingbein village of Liberia, farmer Bindu Dolo, 52, is all smiles and her head is held high. Wearing a red dress and heels, Dolo stands out among other farmers during a community meeting in May. Several graduate farmers of UMCOR's initial 2001 Sustainable Agriculture & Development Program (SA&D) training were in attendance to share testimonies of the program's impact on their lives.
It is no wonder to the community why Dolo is so beautifully dressed—Dolo is the highest producer of honey in the community. She harvested 7.3 gallons of honey from one beehive—an unusual feat—as the average amount of honey produced per hive is about two or three gallons. Dolo also manages a 300-tree Moringa farm and has made use of her Integrated Crop and Pest Management (ICPM) training to enhance productivity in her own vegetable garden. Dolo is a glowing success today because of the UMCOR training she received, but her road there was a difficult one.
When UMCOR first met Dolo in 2001, she was reserved and had low self-esteem. She was struggling to provide for her then five children, using her small farm which was producing very little. Dolo was not well known in her hometown and she never spoke up at town meetings. Her cousin informed her about UMCOR's Farmer Field School training that was being offered in her community. Many in her town encouraged her to join and take advantage of the promising venture. She decided to look into it after much encouragement and was chosen among six others to participate in a study tour of Ghana. This event became a turning point in Dolo's life.
After the training, Dolo returned home a different woman. She was excited and passionate about what she had learned and she was committed to bring positive change into her community. She learned how to better manage her farm by using inexpensive and locally-available products, and soon she doubled her income.
A Solid Hope
As Dolo was making steady upward strides in expanding her farm, increasing her income and building her confidence, remnants of Liberia's 14-year conflict caused Dolo to lose everything. This harsh blow made Dolo realize that all that remained was her UMCOR-acquired knowledge. She relied on this hope as her foundation to bounce back from that tremendously difficult period. She started all over again.
Back at the Neingbein community meeting, farmers gathered to discuss their experiences and present what they have learned. Dolo assists in a Moringa demonstration. The farmers demonstrated how they gather, dry and process Moringa leaves to sell in their community. They discuss its uses and benefits while expressing the positive impact that UMCOR's training has had on their lives. Dolo testifies about her Moringa success and is excited to share how she markets its leaves and how it is helping others.
"I sell tea to church during conference and use the leaves to make the tea. I mix honey with the Moringa to relax," said Dolo. "It also helps women with big belly [stomach ailments]" she adds.
Moringa, a special component of UMCOR's SA&D training, is gaining wide popularity in West Africa because of its special medicinal properties and its high nutritional content. Last year, Moringa sales helped Dolo earn enough money to pay school fees for three of her now eight children. More recently, she earned about $100 just selling small, individually-wrapped Moringa powder pouches-telling her customers to add it to their meals as a nutritious supplement.
Today, Dolo's confidence and self-esteem has dramatically increased. A woman once unknown and unheard in her hometown, is now an outspoken advocate of UMCOR's SA&D-supported activities. She shares her UMCOR-acquired knowledge with doctors and United Nations staff and testifies about how it helped her re-build her life after the war. She was also selected as a representative of Neingbein to lead discussions of community concern—gaining the respect of many in her hometown. In addition, Dolo's children are in school and she has built her very own home.
More importantly, Dolo encourages others, as she was once encouraged, to take full advantage of the knowledge and training made available. She is a prime example of the valuable, life-giving skills and training provided by UMCOR that can restore hope in the lives of those that participate.
How You Can Help
In observance of the upcoming World Food Day on October 16, you can help UMCOR continue to provide farmers with the life-giving skills they need to grow food for themselves and their families. Your gifts to UMCOR's Sustainable Agriculture & Development Program, Advance #982188 will also help farmers build homes, send their children to school and help them live a better quality of life.
*Santiago is a Program Coordinator for UMCOR Communications