Since launching STRONG WOMEN, Restore Hope: Liberia’s women's health and empowerment program, Restore Hope has seen “phenomenal results” and dramatic programmatic growth. Thanks to Dovetail Impact, Together Women Rise, and Restore Hope for investing in the women of Liberia!
Liberia is still dealing with a debilitating mental health crisis in the context of extreme poverty and recovery from war and disease. More than 40% of Liberians suffer from post-traumatic stress and/or major depression. For the vast majority of those who suffer, no care or support is available.
When we work with people who have been through the sufferings of a hard and too-often traumatic life, loss and uncertainty, we cannot begin with their trauma and pain, their loss and grief, their depression and despair, for those do not ever leave room for the breath, let alone recovery and restoration of hope. But deep within them there is a reservoir of innate joy, strength and resilience. That is the place from which we begin. Everything else follows, guided by the wisdom of the spirit, the love that each soul manifests in the world.
The women of Africa have been circling to support one another for millennia. While we might make a few modern, Western innovations, the program has grown from that innate drive the women of Kolahun have to make things better. And so, we follow their lead, and learn from them. In exchange, we offer a few “new tools,” tried and tested approaches to interpersonal care in groups. At the end of the day, these look very much like groups of women in circles, loving and supporting one another. And perhaps we are all learning! What’s important, and most meaningful, is that the innate joy and hopefulness of the women is being revealed.
Two years ago, Restore Hope: Liberia began enlisting women to lead the way to healthy lives and gainful, sustainable livelihoods. “Psychosocial support groups,” (women circling) are led by a trained, lay group facilitator from the community. She helps the women to identify the root causes and triggers of their distress and, more importantly, to identify their strengths and all the ways they can use their strengths to overcome adversity. New life skills help them be STRONG WOMEN and even more resilient to meet the challenges to come.
Newly acquired skills have both immediate and long-term preventive impacts. According to the World Health Organization, for every woman who finds additional strength and resilience, up to four members of her family benefit. In Kolahun, we see how women’s impaired ability to function creates profound hardship. When a woman is unable to perform her essential social responsibilities, she can become a target of criticism and exclusion; she may be less productive, have a lower income, and have poorer physical health. If she is a mother, the negative impact can extend to her entire family. Research shows that children of mothers who are psychologically challenged are more likely to have poor health, struggle in or miss school, and suffer psychologically themselves. Additionally, untreated depressive symptoms in young people are linked to increased alcohol and substance use and high-risk sexual behavior.
The goals of STRONG WOMEN are to:
Business skills and microfinance training, savings and loan workshops, and cooperative governance workshops are held annually to ensure that women who participate have the opportunity to gain the necessary skills to grow and lead a successful business and manage their personal and family finances.
At a cost of approximately $20 per client, we will have served 630 women this year. Next year, the program intensifies, and the cost of the program may go up slightly, but we are on course to serve 870 women.
By actively partnering with other local psychosocial and women's empowerment facilitators in Liberia, we will continue to reach more women to help them reduce the impact of old and new traumas and regain agency and control of their lives. If you would like to join us on this journey, be sure to stay tuned to our newsletters or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
the toyota arrives on March 5
Restore Hope Board Member, John Morris, bought a Toyota 4-Runner, travelled from Washington State to Rhode Island and then had it shipped to Africa. It is scheduled to arrive in Liberia on March 5, 2022.
Morris was first introduced to Restore Hope: Liberia (RHL) through an article he read in the magazine The Nation in 2020 (https://www.thenation.com/article/society/holiday-hope/) about the most critical needs around the world, including in Kolahun, Liberia, Africa. He learned that after 14 years of civil war, a decade of slow reconstruction, and the largest Ebola epidemic ever seen in Africa, Liberians continued to face the challenges of extreme poverty, illiteracy, poor health care, and malnutrition. He discovered that RHL, with Boards located in New York and Liberia, was working hard to empower communities through education, health facilities, and economic development in the rural Kolahun District.
Follow Restore Hope on Facebook to learn more about this amazing story and get live updates about the arrival of this critical resource to Restore Hope Liberia.
women's land rights (still) matter
Ownership and control over assets are central to women’s economic empowerment and their ability to contribute to local, national, and global economies. For many women, the most valuable of these assets are the land and natural resources from which they earn a living, provide for their families, and invest in their communities.
However, biased gender norms, widespread lack of knowledge about women’s land rights in Liberia, and gendered barriers to accessing information and services mean that women are often left out of decisions about land and are unable to exercise their land rights.
Bringing information on women’s land rights to women, men, and youth and fostering community conversations about women’s land rights at a time when Liberia’s communities are beginning the process of formalizing land rights and establishing community land governance bodies is critical and we are doing our part to ensure this message is well understood in Kolahun. So much more can be done, and we welcome your thoughts, ideas and support regarding this matter.
The Act, signed into law in 2018, is one of the most progressive land rights laws in Africa and is the first Liberian law that recognizes women’s rights to land. The Land Rights Act provides for the first time a nationwide process for communities to legally certify and manage their customary lands. The Land Rights Act also strengthens rural women’s legal rights to access and manage land by recognizing women as community members, mandating that each community member be allocated land for housing and agriculture, and requiring equal participation by women in community land governance bodies.
addressing women's mental health
Only until recently, Liberians who became mentally ill were left to fend for themselves, resulting in a rise in homelessness. Even though less than a majority of children in Liberia did not experience the war, growing up with traumatized parents and peers inadvertently affects the children.
Restore Hope Liberia offers a 12-week evidence-based interpersonal group therapy program for women. We have increased the number of weekly group sessions, created Train the Trainer therapy coaching, provided compensation to therapy Leads, and began offering transportation to and from group therapy sessions.
Restore Hope seeks $2,100 to cover 14 facilitators holding weekly sessions for three months. With an average of 6 women per group, we intend to serve 84 women in our next cohort, and we will hope to serve 200 women in 2022!
According to the WHO, more than 40% of Liberians suffer from post-traumatic stress and/or a major depressive disorder. Yet fewer than 1% of Liberians have access to mental health services. Women, in particular, are suffering from the effects of extreme poverty, civil wars, pandemic outbreaks, and sexual abuse. This trauma is debilitating and impacts their children as well. In an assessment of women connected to RHL's programs, 95% of the women screened met the threshold for clinical depression.
The need for accessible clinical depression treatment in the Kolahun District of Liberia is overwhelming current available resources. This project will fund the strategies endorsed by the WHO, which includes Interpersonal Group Therapy Interventions (IPT) and the necessary tools to sustain the program. Integrating IPT into existing women's empowerment activities will help advance women's economic and social empowerment, thus making and sustaining a positive impact on women's mental health.
By providing IPT for 350 women in Lofa County, Liberia over the next 2 years, we expect the results will be: 85% will experience a reduction in the intensity of their depression; 65% of women will experience a reduction in anxiety and PTSD; and 85% of the women in therapy will report higher social and economic empowerment scores (percentages based on the initial PHQ-9 screening conducted on all participants). Thus, mitigating debilitating depression and advancing women's economic opportunities.
You can support this program through our Global Giving campaign online: Support Liberian Women Today!
"anything is possible with passion and purpose."
A recent visit to Kolahun by RHL Board member, John Morris (seen here reading with a Kolahun child), kick-started an ambitious goal: To solve RHL’s transportation challenge of traveling between Monrovia and Kolahun when on official RHL business. John understands the importance of bringing education, healthcare recourses, and financial opportunity to the people of Kolahun. However, during his visit to the district, John and the RHL Executive Director found their sorely, under-equipped vehicle stuck in mud resulting from washed out roads on their way from Monrovia back to Kolahun. Their work was derailed for over 10 hours as they tried to free their vehicle. When the team supporting RHL is unable travel between Monrovia and Kolahun to advocate for RHL, the success of the mission is in danger. That’s when John decided on a bold solution.
He purchased a well-equipped vehicle that could handle the rough terrain between Liberia’s capital city, Monrovia, and Kolahun. Fellow Board member, Dr. Barbara Burke, agreed this was a brilliant solution and paid half of the cost to invest in a proper vehicle. They chose a late-model, Toyota 4-Runner outfitted with all-terrain tires to ensure none of the RHL team would be stuck on washed out roads again. Then, John began his cross-country journey from Washington State to Rhode Island to deliver the vehicle for its trans-Atlantic journey to Liberia. Along the way, he received donations of supplies, games, and books which filled the 4-Runner.
John crisscrossed the entire country. Stops along the way to visit friends, family, and colleagues offered him encouragement as he traveled from Seattle to Portland, to L.A., El Paso, and Austin; then a longer stay in Birmingham. While there, the generous staff at Kingfisher Signs added the RHL logo to the vehicle while John enjoyed visiting the local sites, like the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, with fellow Board member, Dr. Barbara Burke.
After a wonderful visit and short rest, it was once again time to move on to the next stops of Tallahassee, Port St. Lucie, Charlotte, and Wilmington, DE. John finally made it to Cumberland, RI, where the loaded 4-Runner now awaits its ship to take it across the Atlantic to Liberia.
Follow us on Facebook or Instagram where we will soon share the final portion of this story and unveil the 4-Runner’s arrival in Liberia.
"Will i fall tomorrow?"
Meet Francis, an epileptic teenager in Liberia
For Francis, a teenager from the village of Nyokolitahun in Liberia, October 5th is a very special day: It will be graduation day for the vocational skills program he has been attending in Kolba City, about 15 miles from his home. Now that the dry season is approaching, travel by foot or motorbike will be easier. He’s looking forward to seeing acquaintances and meeting newcomers.
There’s just one problem: Francis is overcome by a sense of impending despair as the question, “Will I fall tomorrow?" cycles continuously through his mind. He can’t get the fear out of his head.
In Liberia, the terms, ‘fall’, ‘fall down’ or ‘fall out’ all refer to seizures. Epilepsy, a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive seizures, is a non-communicable condition associated with abnormal electrical activity in the brain. When seizures are uncontrolled, epilepsy is disabling. Persons with seizure disorders may experience a warning or ‘aura’ prior to a convulsion, but often there’s no such warning.
One of the most alarming types of seizures is the generalized seizure, or tonic-clonic seizure, which renders a person unconscious, as bodily control is lost and muscles contract violently. Falls commonly occur with generalized seizures, and resultant injuries include lacerations, burns, concussions and fractures. Drowning can occur if a person is in or near water. Seizures can also be complicated by prolonged headaches which adversely affect daily routines. Inadequately controlled epilepsy is also associated with premature death.
Worldwide, approximately 50 million people of all ages live with epilepsy, and epidemiologists are now confirming what has been long suspected: Sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s highest prevalence of epilepsy. Perinatal trauma, inherited disorders, head trauma and infectious diseases, particularly those caused by parasites and bacteria, are some of the conditions associated with the onset of epilepsy.
Seizures can be mitigated through the use of anti-seizure medications. Regular dosing, usually on a daily basis, helps prevent seizures in most cases. However, in the wake of the country’s civil wars, national drug inventories have been insufficient to meet Liberians’ needs for essential medications. There’s also a shortage of medical professionals.
Epilepsy is often accompanied by anxiety and depression, which takes a further toll. Mental health professionals are few and far between in Liberia, and anti-depressants are not commonly available.
In the developing world, societal misconceptions, including the belief that seizures indicate that a person is ‘possessed’ or is to blame for convulsive disorders, often means that individuals with epilepsy are considered contagious and hence stigmatized, isolated and marginalized. For children and youth with epilepsy, this is deeply troubling. Kids want to fit in with peers, rather than stand out. For people with seizure disorders, societal exclusion and isolation further exacerbate anxiety and depression.
Education is adversely affected, as academic performance and school attendance decline. Students may require days to recover following a generalized seizure while prolonged headaches make studying difficult.
Video: Francis and his uncle Morris
Around noon on graduation day, Francis is standing with his uncle, Morris, at the Restore Hope: Liberia (RHL) vocational education center when he developed a seizure and fell to the ground. Onlookers surrounded Francis, while his uncle knelt beside him. RHL nurse Gladys Zarbay was alerted, and went to Francis, placing him safely on his side as Morris explained how Francis ran out of his anti-seizure medication the previous month because of a stock-out at the hospital.
Gladys promptly checked with the hospital: Still no anticonvulsants. Ultimately, she was able to purchase Francis’s anti-seizure medication at a small roadside shop in Kolba City.
When Francis was assessed two weeks ago, he was not feeling well. He was depressed and only reluctantly communicative; he held his head between his hands. It had been a particularly difficult week for Francis, who also suffered a bout with malaria.
Currently, Francis is taking his anti-seizure medication.
This week, in November 2020, Francis is feeling better and regularly taking his anti-seizure medication. But, he’d like to feel well – well enough to imagine that wonderful things are in store for him tomorrow, next week and next year - without the dread of seizures.
Francis, one of many orphans in Nyokolitahun, continues to try to cope with life’s challenges. And while he’s grateful for his grandfather and RHL, he longs for relief from seizures, anxiety and depression. He doesn’t want to succumb to despair. His prayer is to experience wellness, confidence, societal inclusion and the emboldened vision of wonderful tomorrows.
What RHL is doing (and would like to do more of) to help persons with epilepsy:
Liberia Declares State of Emergency: Minister of Health, “Our entire nation is threatened.”
How RESTORE HOPE: LIBERIA is responding...
We are one of the only humanitarian aid organizations remaining in rural Lofa county. We must respond to the health crisis that the current pandemic now presents in Liberia.
Here’s what RHL is doing:
We are all witnessing what this pandemic can do to health systems of various capacities around the world.
Imagine the scale of mortality that could befall a country that has scant resources. These two hospitals support a population of over 170,000. THERE IS NOT ONE VENTILATOR, NOT ONE MASK, NOT ONE PAIR OF EXAM GLOVES IN STOCK. THE PHARMACY SHELVES ARE EMPTY. Even basic items are needed—soap, hand sanitizer, bleach and other cleaning supplies, and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to protect the lives of our hospital staff.
They are doing what they can: setting up handwashing stations around the hospital and putting in place some measures learned from the Ebola epidemic such as screening points and isolation units.
Without more support, the number of deaths will be astounding.
Your donation will SAVE LIVES.
meet mariama. she perseveres.
Six weeks ago, 14-year-old Mariama was having abdominal pain, but she went to school and attended after-school tutoring anyway. She appeared ill, her eyes having a yellow tint to them, so her RESTORE HOPE tutor alerted our nurse, Gladys Zarbay, who arranged for Mariama to be evaluated at Kolahun Hospital.
Mariama was ultimately admitted, treated for hepatitis and discharged a week later. Her access to basic medical care was made possible by RESTORE HOPE: LIBERIA (RHL).
Today, Liberia’s healthcare system is at risk of collapsing. The nation’s hospitals are under-resourced, and conditions that began deteriorating two years ago continue to decline. Thanks to the diligence and compassion of Gladys Zarbay, Mariama got treatment she needed at Kolahun Hospital, and she received her initial medications. Unfortunately, for most Liberians, however, this would not have been possible.
Liberia’s hospitals lack even the most basic of medical supplies and medications. All diagnostic tests and treatment supplies must be paid for by patients or their families. While Liberia’s economy contracts and inflation increases, essential human services and infrastructure are collapsing. Rural roads have become more perilous during the rainy season. Many Liberians struggle to access medical care only to be faced with insurmountable costs once they reach a healthcare facility. The majority of Liberians can’t afford to buy diagnostic tests such as a malaria screen or basic medical supplies like IV catheters and fluids, much less therapeutic, often life-saving medications. The outcome? Declining numbers of clinic visits, empty hospital pharmacy shelves, and the ominous spectacle of empty hospital beds. People are choosing to face illness, even death, at home.
At age 3 years, Mariama underwent surgical repair of a large and disabling abdominal wall defect on board Mercy Ships’ Africa Mercy. The timing was fortuitous, as there were no other treatment options in Liberia for her rare condition. Her recovery went well, but some six years later, Mariama still hadn’t attended school. She was living with her mother in a remote village in northern Kolahun District. There was no money to pay school fees and buy a school uniform.
Thanks to the initiative of several Kolahun community members and the support of medical alumni of Kolahun Hospital, Mariama began school in 2013 at the age of 9. She would become one of RESTORE HOPE: LIBERIA’s first beneficiaries.
Mariama’s life is exemplary of many young lives in Liberia: a life of ongoing challenges including post-conflict poverty, food insecurity, educational barriers and under-resourced healthcare. Her perseverance is exceptional. Mariama inspires.
We could help Mariama because of you. Thank you. RHL seeks to do more for more children. RHL plans to increase advocacy for improved diagnostics and treatment in Liberia. RHL continues to advocate for improved rural roads and access to healthcare. We ask for your help to continue supporting Mariama and children like her - children who stoically seek to endure and lead lives of meaning and hope.
Ms. Blama is finding a new way forward
Ms. Blama’s story is one of resilience, of finding hope.
Like most Liberians, she was just a child when the war broke out. During the war, in hopes of surviving, she fled into “the bush”, the untamed lands of Liberia’s tropical forest. During those 14 long years of an intensely brutal war, she bore children.
The very day she delivered triplets, she was raped repeatedly by rebel forces.
She was then captured by the rebels and held as a prisoner. She escaped once, but unsuccessfully. They “chopped” her, as she describes her own experience. She finally escaped into Sierra Leone becoming a refugee. She eventually made her way back to Liberia but remained living in the bush with her children. She was too traumatized to re-enter society.
When RESTORE HOPE learned of Ms. Blama, our team in Kolahun brought her into the community. With ongoing psychosocial counseling, Ms. Blama is finding a new way forward.
As she says, she can now “go amongst her friends”.
With RESTORE HOPE’s intervention and ongoing support, she now counsels other women who’ve gone through such trauma.
Her children are attending school and she’s become a weaving instructor in the Women’s Weaving Cooperative, supported by RHL. We are proud to know her.
Your financial contribution will help others, like Ms. Blama, find a new way forward. Join our community, become part of Restore Hope’s family of donors, and give a most meaningful gift this season.
Meet Manbu — He loves to fix and build things!
Children need to play.
For children to reach their fullest physical, emotional and spiritual development, play is critical. Children who don’t play, don’t thrive. This is especially true for children who have suffered through war, natural disasters, epidemics, death and loss, and separation from loved ones. Even in survival, their lives have been forever changed.
There are no toys or games in places like Liberia, where the opportunities to play are often non-existent. But kids are amazingly inventive: A tightly wrapped ball of rags can become a soccer ball, a simple barrel hoop or old bike wheel, plus a stick, becomes a classic hoop-and-stick toy. And for some kids we see in Liberia, an empty tin can tied to a long piece of string becomes a favorite pull-toy. Imagination does the rest.
And for kids like Manbu, a 10-year-old 5th grader, imagination knows no bounds. The first thing you notice about Manbu is his drive to invent and create. Whenever we see him, he seems to have a new toy or other creation, made from found materials - recycled sticks and twigs, plastic bottles, string and wire, an old broken LED flashlight, taken apart and repurposed. From what you or I would regard as junk or trash emerge a helicopter, a toy truck with electric lights, a bench and table for his mother, a solar-powered cooking stove.
Appropriately, Manbu’s favorite subjects at school are math and science. “I like to fix things,” he told us, “and I want to be an engineer.” How did he learn to connect the batteries to the lights on his truck? “On my own,” he said matter-of-factly.
So far, Manbu’s world does not extend beyond Kolahun. But he hopes one day to go away to college and become an engineer. And after that? “I want to come back to help my mom, brother, and sister, and also my community.”
Perhaps Manbu will be one of those who get the lights back on in Kolahun, solarizes the wells and pump stations, and builds the new irrigation and flood control systems. There are many bright, young minds like Manbu in Liberia, and poverty should not be a deterrence for them to reach their full potential.
Shyly, near the end of our interview with Manbu, he wondered aloud if RESTORE HOPE: LIBERIA might help him go to college one day.
We’re working on it, Manbu, we’re working on it!
your help needed - literacy campaign on global giving
URGENT UPDATE: We only have 18 days to hit our target goal of 40 donors and $5000 in RESTORE HOPE's crowdfunding campaign for childhood literacy in Liberia, under the auspices of Global Giving. If we reach our goal, we can remain active permanently on Global Giving's site, providing us tremendous exposure to more donors. With you, we can succeed!
Teaching children to read is critical to breaking the cycle of poverty and investing in a future where every life matters. RESTORE HOPE: LIBERIA helps meet the needs of disadvantaged children in the country's remote Kolahun District. RESTORE HOPE will train 6 tutors in phonics-based literacy instruction. The tutors will provide focused after-school literacy instruction to 100 children - improving their fundamental skills, boosting their confidence, and offering them a life-changing opportunity.
60% of Liberians are illiterate. Twenty years of civil war and the worst Ebola epidemic in history have devastated Liberia's school system. Most young people cannot read or write at their grade level, if at all, and few Liberian instructors have the skills to effectively teach literacy. Disadvantaged children-orphaned, disabled, chronically ill-are more likely to escape poverty if they are skilled and educated.
RESTORE HOPE: LIBERIA's staff of 6 tutors will complete a literacy-instruction training program. The tutors will then assess the literacy level of 100 RESTORE HOPE students, who will then be grouped according to skill level. Tutors will employ their newly acquired skills, including phonics, to boost the youth's reading levels. They will also use culturally-relevant reading materials, e-readers and other effective literacy tools and methods.
Training after-school tutors in phonics-based literacy will dramatically improve a District's entire education system by bringing expert resources into the community. Not only will 100 children in various schools directly benefit from literacy instruction, trained tutors will go on to lead a Training of Trainers with teachers across the District, sharing their newly acquired knowledge with instructors within the schools. For the children, it will be life-changing.