This August marks a decade since the end of the brutal civil wars in Liberia which left over 200,000 dead and more than a million people displaced. For the Danish Refugee Council, it also marks the fifteen-year anniversary of the organization’s activities in the country – and the staff sees bright spots for the future.
While peace dividends have been slow to materialize, DRC staff is convinced that those long-awaited rewards are just around the corner, 10 years after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement on august 18, 2003.
Michael B. Paye, River Gee Protection Coordinator and DRC employee since 2007, believes that DRC’s approach to community development has been an important catalyst for change:
“We don’t give hand-outs; we involve communities and support them in taking responsibility for themselves. Protection is about attitude and behavioral change and that’s a long-term process.”
V. Bonyennoh Saletti started her DRC career in 1999 and today she is Field Finance Officer for South East Liberia and has a long-term perspective on the situation in Liberia and DRC’s role in instituting change:
“During the emergency we did a lot of distribution; today we don’t give beneficiaries fish, we teach them to fish.”
No one can deny the existence of gender disparity in the country; however, Paye cites increasing women’s participation in community meetings as a sign that things are changing. By investing in women through the provision of literacy, life-skills and business skills training, DRC has helped to empower them and started the process of bridging the gender-gap. Cooperatives which were set up in Nimba five-years ago are still active today, providing women with an income, and families with a more dignified existence. So too is the culture of impunity surrounding acts of gender-based violence; through the provision of human rights’ education, communities, and women in particular, are given the knowledge and tools to claim their rights and put an end to abuse.
Saletti is particularly heartened by the changes she sees among female beneficiaries:
“In the villages, we used to see women using their thumbprints as a signature, but with literacy training today they sign their names. Skills-training for women has given them self-sufficiency.” She further adds that whereas girls used to be denied access to schooling, mentioning that she herself had to fight for her education, today every community is clamoring for a school and educated women move a nation forward.
Both Saletti and Paye feel that Liberia is poised on the cusp of transformation. Good governance and an investment in infrastructure and social services will hasten that transformation. DRC continue to be committed to Liberia and hope to mark more developmental milestones with Liberians in the years to come.
DRC has been present in Liberia since 1998. Today, in addition to managing the Little Wlebo Refugee Camp in South-East Liberia, DRC works in 50 communities in six sectors; conflict prevention, conflict resolution and social cohesion, food security through agricultural development, income generation activities, WASH, Camp coordination and management, and infrastructure rehabilitation. While early projects implemented during the emergency primarily addressed lifesaving assistance, today the organization is focused on the future with a view towards development, strengthening community-based protection mechanisms, improving livelihoods and building capacity for state actors.