One of our volunteers in Liberia, Marleen de Jong – Rothengatter, just sent along this message. Marleen assists with our social work and evaluation, although, really, she does so much more.
I spent yesterday afternoon with Macintosh in West Point to visit the families of the girls I work with. The 75,000 people here fight a daily battle against poverty and endemic problems, including overpopulation and diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis.
West Point is a big maze of alleys and super small houses about 1.5 meters by 2 meters that are made of corrugated iron and wood; they are built without any foundation. The farther you go inside the more you will be swallowed up by corrugated iron, waste, human feces and the smell that goes with it. Many people are ill with malaria and other infectious diseases.
In addition to disease and poverty, sexual abuse of women and children are the order of the day. The oppression and abuse of women, which was fed by the rebels during the civil war, continues even after the end of the war and despite the best efforts of the government.
I still haven’t found the words to describe my feelings, but I’m very proud of all the girls who are “trying small small” to make a living without money, social support, a place to sleep, and broken families.
Although overwhelmed with sadness and at a loss for words, a smile says it all. A smile? Yes!! While dancing, singing, and playing games, we smile and laugh and have a lot of fun. A smile can say more than a thousand words. There are smiles of love, happiness, comfort, friendship. Smiles of compassion, support, hope and they make us feel special and loved.
As a volunteer for More than Me on the ground in West Point, I don’t have the intention to change the world. But by giving counselling to the girls, I try to work on improving their self-esteem, social skills, help them cope with feelings, or sometimes I just listen and we smile or cry a bit. Some girls have behavioural problems and difficulties concentrating at school because of their home situation. One of the girls just moved to her grandmother’s house because her mother used to invite men into the little girl’s bedroom for a small fee.
In an ideal world, I would like to solve all of their problems. But that is, unfortunately, just impossible. Meanwhile, I’m just trying to increase their quality of life little by little, or “trying small” as they say here in Liberia. Some days, when I’m overwhelmed with feelings, I like to think that even a small ripple in the water can be far-reaching.