Developing Women Leaders in Liberia
Alfreda Anderson is national coordinator of United Methodist Women of the Liberia Annual Conference and was my host when I represented U.S. United Methodist Women on a relationship-building trip to that West African country in September. Liberia United Methodist Women was founded in 1947 and today is responsible for women's activities and mission outreach in 21 districts.
While my trip was too short and the ongoing rains in Liberia proved too heavy for me to visit United Methodist Women-supported projects outside the city of Monrovia, Ms. Anderson gave me a tour of the three U.S. United Methodist Women-supported projects in Liberia's capital city of Monrovia: salary support for the women's coordinator, day care center, a scholarship program for mothers.
During that time, Ms. Anderson spoke with me for response about the Liberian women's work and the context of their mission outreach efforts.
response: Tell us about your work.
Ms. Anderson: I have served in this position for the past 10 years, and it has been an immense blessing to walk with the fearless and bold women of Liberia. During the past decades, while our country and our people have faced some unthinkable tragedies, I have also witnessed the best in humanity and the unbelievable strength and resourcefulness of Liberia's women. It has been a great blessing to walk with and learn from the women as we together craft a vision for the future, and as we chart a way forward, not only for our women and children, but for our country as a whole.
Prior to serving in this position I had worked in various positions within the Liberian government sector: an assistant minister, a deputy director at the Executive Mansionâ€"the President's Officeâ€"with the National Records and the Reconciliation Commission. Unfortunately in 2003, during the war, my house was burnt down to the ground, and I moved into the city. This hardship opened a door for me to get even more involved in the work of the Liberia Annual Conference as we, the women of the church, tried to offer spiritual support, hope and opportunity to each other in anguished times. I started to work as acting director of women's work half time and the bishop eventually offered me the position of women's coordinator.
response: What do you want to accomplish in this position?
Ms. Anderson: Our vision is to develop women in the various districts, empower them and help them move forward as effective leaders in the church and in society. We do this through visitations, seminars, workshops and conferences. These efforts begin the process of discovering strength and bringing into reality ideas for development and improvement of our organization. We believe this enables us to "work for the night is coming; the time is far spent." We must do the good work of our Lord while it is still day for the night is coming when no man can work (John 9:4).
Liberia United Methodist Women funds some of our own projects, and we also own property in Liberia. For example, Monrovia District women operate an elementary school, women in the St. Paul River, St. John River and Grand Bassa districts operate guest houses. Women in the Garraway District raise cattle and cassava on farms, and women in the Gompa District are building a training center for women. The conference United Methodist Women owns and operates a day care center and we also own property on which the United Methodist University is located. We have a lease agreement with the university, and its lease payments provide scholarship support for 10 students at the school.
response: What are some of the joys and challenges of your work?
Ms. Anderson: My greatest joy comes in seeing women empowered, working together, their lives transformed. For example, each year we bring two women from each district to the conference United Methodist Women training center to learn small-scale enterprise projects like pastry, cake decoration, tie and dye. These women then go back to their districts and train women. It is always exciting to go back to the districts and see women's lives transformed. These women can now afford to send their kids to school, obtain medical care, start their own businesses. It is for this reason that we keep on working despite setbacks.
The biggest challenge we face is funding, and also the timing of receiving funding. Sometimes the funds come very late so that we cannot afford payroll for office support staff or our Internet gets suspended. My work involves traveling a lot, but currently the van is broken so I can no longer visit, meet and nurture new members, empower women or compensate staff who facilitate our events. My computer was destroyed by a fire, so I am not able to access the Internet.
Our second greatest challenge is gaining a better understanding of the organization of United Methodist Women in the United States. We are quite disconnected from the U.S. women. We would love opportunities to connect, learn from their work, better understand the role of women within the church, help train our newly elected officers.
response: Do you have any special message to United Methodist Women in the United States? An Ubuntu Journey team is coming to Liberia in March. Anything you'd like to say to the women coming to Liberia?
Ms. Anderson: We completely and sincerely thank United Methodist Women members for their help, without which we would not have come this far. We look forward to getting to know one another better and strengthening each other as sisters serving humanity and the Almighty. To the women coming on the Ubuntu Journey to Liberia, we welcome you to Liberia! I can assure you that you will have a successful stay and an enjoyable time. We will put every effort, work hard to make your stay a success and you will go back with wonderful memories of Liberia. We will be electing new officers for the United Methodist Church in February. At the time you come, we will have new officers so you will be very welcome to meet them and celebrate together as a family. We are praying for the women and for whatever they are doing currently to make the program a success.
Donna Akuamoah is executive secretary for international ministries for United Methodist Women.