It really is close to impossible for someone from Europe or North America to fathom what life is like in Liberia. If you are poor in the West, you most likely have food stamps, health care and assistance in finding shelter. If you are poor in Africa, you suffer from some of the absolute worst poverty in the world.
In statistics reported by the World Bank, in 2009, 89.6% of Liberia’s population lives on less than $3.10 per day. And remember, if that is an average, a lot of people live on less than that. If you think about living on this kind of income, one of the things you most likely will not have is electricity. Imagine what is eliminated from your life without electricity! No television, no computer, no refrigerator, no stove, no washing machine, no dishwasher, no iron, no kitchen gadgets, and the list goes on and on. With this income, you also would not have a car. There are motorcycle taxis available, but not everyone can afford that luxury.
Every daily task takes so much time to complete in Liberia. Clothes are washed by hand. Meals take hours to prepare. Water needs to be gathered from the well, possibly in your yard or more likely at a community location. Charcoal or firewood needs to be purchased. And, you must walk everywhere for everything you need.
Yes, let me repeat, it is hard to imagine what life is like in Liberia.
I slept a lot during my Peace Corps days in Liberia back in 1988 and 89. The sun went down around 7:30 in the evening and rose about the same hour in the morning. Candle lights and kerosene lanterns didn’t work for me. They just lulled me to sleep. So, I went to bed with the sun. I’d like to say I also arose with the sun, but that didn’t happen. For reasons I never understood, my neighbors arose closer to five o’clock in the morning. And since that was the “normal” time to get up, nobody thought about being quiet for the nearby neighbor who didn’t think it was a normal time. To this day, I still believe everyone should be in bed at five in the morning.
When I returned to Liberia for a mural project sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in 2016, there was one new development in rural Liberia that would have rocked my Peace Corps experience. Solar powered lamps had been introduced to even the most rural villages in the country. Bright, wonderful, cheap, rechargeable, solar-powered lamps! It would have changed my Peace Corps experience. I wouldn’t have been nearly as rested.
It is with great joy that I discovered Dr. LeRoy Boikai and the Village Improvement Project. I am so thrilled that I can be a part of a program that helps improve the life of people in rural Liberia. My Peace Corps days gave me a small taste of what their daily life is like, but it was only two years. It wasn’t a lifetime facing poverty without much hope.
Village Improvement Project offers hope in several ways that are important to me. I know first-hand the importance of solar lamps which they have supplied. Their project to improve cookstoves would help every person who cooks across the countryside. These stoves are meant to reduce cooking smoke. And since cookstoves are frequently used inside the home, breathing that continual smoke is a health risk faced daily. Finally, I am thrilled that V.I.P. wants to get my tales from Once Upon West Africa into the hands of young readers across the country. Not only will it help preserve a cultural treasure, but it will encourage reading. And, we all know that reading is a skill that everyone needs if they are ever going to escape poverty.