The saying goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” The connection between agency and self-sufficiency is obvious. It lends itself to more modern iterations like, “Don’t give a hand out. Give a hand up.” Ministering in inner city communities that most of the business world has abandoned, I love finding examples of agency/self-sufficiency projects that show them up. I found one of my favorite success stories in Liberia: the Liberian Womens Sewing Project.
Child Liberty, the son of an exiled Liberian diplomat, was inspired by the work of Nobel prize winners Leymah Gbowee, President Ellen Sirleaf and the Liberian Women’s Peace Movement, to return to Liberia determined to use his Silicon Valley tech experience to provide economic opportunity for women. In 2010, he co-founded Liberty and Justice which I learned is Africa’s first fair-trade-certified apparel manufacturer.
The workers in their factories in Liberia and Ghana are 90% female and are paid 20% more than others in the industry. They also own 49% of the business. This means women who are often locked out of opportunities for gainful employment are not just employed but owners of their employment. The cherry on the cake is that the remaining 51% goes back into community development.
Here’s a quote from a CNN interview with Child Liberty: “We did it in post-conflict Liberia where we have women from both sides of the conflict, affected by the conflict working together, singing together, praying together and doing all these great things but also exporting t-shirts for major retailers in the United States. In that process we hope those women will lift themselves and their families out of poverty.” You can read the full story here:
I’ve had to deal with banks in the inner cities where I’ve pastored that want credit for community development through Community Reinvestment Act investment, but you have to fight them tooth and nail to approve projects that are as community changing as Liberty and Justice. Having been a seamstress myself (alterations a specialty) and having a grandmother who supported her family doing piecework in clothing factories here in NYC, I love that women and sewing machines are providing their own happily ever afters.
“Put It In A Book”
by Michal Scott
The daughter of ex-slaves, Aziza Williams uses her freedom to teach slaves to read, a law-breaking activity that forces her to flee the United States for the Free and Independent Republic of Liberia where her independent and injustice-confronting ways garners the unwanted sexual attention of a dibia, Dulee Morlu. In a cruel twist of fate, Morlu uses Aziza’s love for education against her and imprisons her in a book no one will ever read. He declares she will remain there until she submits to him. After a month of imprisonment, Aziza despairs that Morlu is right. Fear that she may surrender to him begins to overwhelm her until one day she senses the unfamiliar touch of Sekou Caine, an audacious and inquisitive thief, leafing through her pages.
A multiple volume encyclopedia stood on shelves at chest level in a far corner. Morlu would want his wealth within easy reach. Sekou pulled down the first volume and rifled through the pages. Paper currency of all types fluttered to his feet like leaves whirling from the branches of bombax trees in winter.
Clever, Dibia. But not clever enough.
Sekou chuckled and rifled through volume after volume. By the time he reached Z a pile of money lay on the floor. He scooped the cash into his swag sack, laughing quietly at his haul.
He thrust the last volume back into place, knocking a slender manuscript off the shelf.
The Story of Aziza.
He recognized the title of the book with which Morlu had taunted him. He picked it up, fanned the pages with his thumb. A sigh drifted past him. Startled, he crouched and looked left then right. Only the night breeze disturbed the silence. He fanned through the pages again. This time a scent – light like rain, sweet like honey – graced the air.
He stared at the face of a withered old hag on the book’s cover. The image had repulsed and fascinated him. The gaze in her eyes shone with intelligence and defiance, so unlike the villagers lionizing the dibia at this moment.
Sekou opened to the flyleaf. There the image of a black beauty stared back at him. Her skin was as smooth as the hag’s was wrinkled, but the same intelligent defiance shone in her eyes. He traced the outline of her chin jutting forth with pride.
“So, ladies…” He feathered his fingers along her full lips then examined the woman on the cover again. “To which one of you does this story belong?”
Aziza’s chest heaved. Warmth from the intruder’s fingers suffused the book’s cover, intoxicating her mind and her spirit with hope. The rapid flutter of her prison’s pages kindled arousal along her labia. She shivered as delight saturated her deadened limbs.
Once again the rapid rifling of the pages sent tremors of pleasure through her. She knew not whose hand cradled her prison, but the respectful caress told her this couldn’t be her captor. Dared she hope this might be a person she could trust to set her free?
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