Liberia’s rainy season can be a miserable time for Susana Koh and other residents of Gaye Town, a swampy flood-prone slum outside Monrovia.
When the rising waters flood Susana’s home, she and her eight children have hardly a dry spot to sleep or play.
“It is particularly difficult for the little ones,” says Susana, who lives in a community where high grass and water dominate the landscape. “On some days, there is no place to move, nowhere to play, nowhere to go. They are stuck in one place.”
Two out of three Monrovians, like Susana, live in makeshift homes built in lowlands and swamps, affecting their health and employment prospects. Susana’s family is among 215 families supported by SOS Children’s Villages Liberia to help improve their living conditions or move on to better situations altogether.
Augustine Allieu, national director of SOS Children’s Villages Liberia, says most of the families in and around Monrovia live in shanty houses built in swamps. Population growth, combined with internal migration from a 14-year-long civil war, led to the rapid expansion of settlements in high-risk flood zones.
During the rainy season, residents have to literally balance on cinder blocks to get into their corrugated metal houses and enter some of the rooms, he says.
Empowering communites to help families
SOS Children’s Villages Liberia stopped 18-months ago giving direct handouts to families, which was the practice following the civil war and during the Ebola outbreak in 2015. The SOS team now offers skills training and income-generating activities to caregivers to put them on the path of sustainability and self-reliance.
“What we are looking to do now is focus on empowering communities first, and then the community will be in a position to support the families and then the families will be able to support the children,” says Mr Allieu.
Susana used to work as a trader. She would buy goods on credit, sell them at the market, and pay back her loan. Her expectations were high, but she struggled to balance caring for her family and returning the money to vendors on time.
The SOS team advises her on how to take care of her children and to manage her business selling bags of nuts. “When the SOS team came they introduced me to the village savings associations. At first, I was reluctant to join one, but some friends who have been part of one for a long time told me otherwise,” says Susana. “I’m now at ease knowing that I can save money and provide for my family at the same time.”