Responsively Yours: Resources and Activism Needed
United Methodist Women celebrated when Leymah Gbowee and three other women were awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.
Women’s Division directors were privileged to hear Ms. Gbowee the very day the prize was announced when she spoke in New York City at the Interchurch Center, where United Methodist Women has national offices and where the directors had convened for their fall meeting. I am still thinking about some of the things she said, especially since I also saw her recently at a United Nations Commission on the Status of Women-related meeting at United Methodist Women’s Church Center for the United Nations, also in New York City.
Ms. Gbowee is a very engaging speaker, as some of you will remember from seeing her and one of her co-prize winners, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a United Methodist, in “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” a documentary about the women’s peace movement in Liberia.
Ms. Gbowee has a wonderful way of saying “hard” things “soft” that I am not sure I can adequately convey. However, in answering a question about what we should be doing to help, she asked: “Why do women from the United States organize to send T-shirts to poor people in Africa?”
Economic development experts say that what’s needed in Africa is cultivation of African crops, African textiles, African employment and African independence rather than acts of charity that undermine local markets.
It is not that there is not a need for resources in Africa, there is. But there is a need for resources to build toward sustainability. Ms. Gbowee went on to say that she found this especially confounding because, as she began to travel in the United States, she came to know that there is plenty of poverty in this country.
People in the United States need food. People in the United States need homes. People in the United States need better education. United Methodist Women members know this. If it were not so, there would be no need for our scholarships or our national mission institutions that help feed, clothe, educate and support women, children and families. Or for the myriad ways our members support local mission.
We also know that the need has grown. People who have lost jobs, people who have lost homes, people who have lost health insurance, people whose hours have been cut back at work — these people are lining up for jobs, training, supplemental food, educational support and other help as they join the ranks of families at or below the poverty line in the United States.
Ms. Gbowee’s observation was: “It seems to me that in Africa we have activism, but we lack resources, while in the United States, you have resources but lack activism.”
United Methodist Women, I’m afraid she might be right. We know that many aspects of our systems are not working to build a better, more sustainable future in this country.
Certainly families enmeshed in generations of poverty and families that are newly poor need our help today. But don’t they also need us to work alongside them for different conditions in the future? With God’s help we can.
HARRIETT JANE OLSON
Deputy General Secretary