By Ban Dhayi
BOMI COUNTY, Liberia, 30 December 2011 – Despite immense hardships in her life, Sara Dennis, a mother of six in Bomi County, north-western Liberia, is in high spirits. “I am illiterate and so is my husband, however all my five school-age children are educated. And in a few years, they will have finished their studies and get prestigious jobs,” she said.
Fourteen years of civil conflict between 1989 and 2003 left the country’s infrastructure and economy in ruins and the education system devastated. Despite successive years of economic growth, levels of poverty remain high: 84 per cent of people live on less than $1.25 per day
Protecting vulnerable children
The Social Cash Transfer pilot scheme was launched in early 2010 to protect children living in poor and vulnerable households. Bomi County was selected to pilot the programme because of its exceptionally high level of food insecurity; the county has one of the lowest levels of food consumption in the country.
“Food insecurity impacts all members of a household, but its effects are particularly pernicious on children,” said Isabel Crowley UNICEF Resident Representative in Liberia. “Inadequate food and nutrition have lifelong health consequences and negatively impact children’s ability to learn, which affects all their other life opportunities.”
Beneficiary households receive monthly cash transfers that vary according to the size of the household, with additional sums provided for each child enrolled in school. While the transfer is not conditioned on school enrolment, the programme is intended to provide an incentive for education, discourage child labour and provide caregivers with additional resources for school-related costs such as clothing, exercise books and pencils.
The scheme is operated by the Government of Liberia in Bomi, with support from UNICEF and with funding from the European Commission and the Government of Japan.
A lasting difference
To date, 1,900 families in Bomi are receiving support through this programme. Households of four or more people receive roughly LD$1,750 (approximately US$25) per month. An estimated 54 per cent of beneficiaries are children.
Just 18 months after its launch, the Social Cash Transfer pilot project is making a significant, and lasting, difference in the lives of those children and families participating.
Ms. Dennis has been using her transfers to generate a steady income for her large family. Each month, she saves part of the money to buy a chicken. She then tends the chickens and sells the eggs in her community.
With luck, the programme will quite literally put a roof over her head.
“With Christmas just around the corner, I will be using the cash this time differently. I am going to buy new pair of shoes for each of my children and replace the thatch roof of my small house with zinc sheets,” she said with a smile.