It has been 18 years since I first met Plenty when I came back to the U.S. from Liberia where my family had moved five years earlier. I was desperate for solutions to respond to the unfolding devastation I’d witnessed as a result of the Liberian civil war. Starvation, mass migrations, poverty, tribal massacres, destruction, and war were all but ignored by the international community. I expected that calls to groups like CARE would get all the food we needed for Liberia’s starving masses. President Doe had been killed in September of 1990 and I thought that my calls to Jessie Jackson, Randall Robinson and other prominent Black leaders, would get them to mediate the conflict between warlords Charles Taylor and Prince Johnson. There was no law in Liberia, and everything was being destroyed and I’m convinced even today that a U.S.-brokered mediation could have ended the war 14 years earlier and avoided the subsequent wars in Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast.
But no one seemed interested I soon became exasperated by the number of “not now”s and “sorry”s and disillusioned by the lack of interest by Americans who I though would have raised their vices to end the war in Liberia, a country founded by African-Americans in early 1800s. At some point during all of these let downs I decided that if Liberia was going to get help, I was going to have to do something myself. I didn’t know how to begin, but I knew that I had to learn quickly.
I called my husband who had stayed behind in Liberia and asked him to give me the phone number listed in the back of a book we used for our home birthings, Spiritual Midwifery. I didn’t expect much help, but I had been inspired by the founders of the Farm for years and felt if anyone could help maybe they could. After all they had a listing in the backs of their books that offered to help poor communities with food. I didn’t even know if the number was still active but I decided it was worth a try. What a pleasant surprise when someone answered the phone and I got a “maybe” on my first call. They told me about Plenty and asked that I call the Plenty office and tell them my story, which I did.
The rest is the history that has writing an update on my recent trip to Liberia just two weeks ago. Plenty has been a friend of Imani House and mine ever since. Not only did they find the funds to send agricultural specialists Chuck Haren and Gomier Longville to Liberia with me. They also sent me to Nigeria to study tropical agriculture and soybean growth and utilization, helped us raise funds, sent our Liberian Physicians Assistant to Senegal for dental training, hosted my visit to Nicaragua in 2006 to learn how a successful soybean enterprise for grassroots people works, and Plenty has continued over the years to offer Imani House support, advice, friendship, and assistance.
While Imani House was never able to feed everyone in Liberia in need of food, or directly end the war, we stuck it out and our small group has been able to give free healthcare, send much needed relief supplies, needed the international agencies to do more, and opened clinics, demonstration farms and self-help projects. While we are still a small fry in a sea of fast voracious fish (the international giants), the impact of our response, the dedication, sacrifices and skills of our Liberian members and continuity of our efforts, have become legendary in Liberia. Our current programs include a Maternal and Childcare Clinic in the rural area of Brewerville, Adult Literacy and Life Skills classes for market women, and demonstration farming. Our objectives now are to expand our Adult Literacy program throughout Liberia (illiteracy in Liberia is over 70% among women), establish mobile health units to go into rural areas where healthcare is non-existent, and set up soybean growth and utilization enterprises that will improve the health of Liberia’s children and earned income for women’s groups throughout the country.
Imani House welcomes support for our programs in Liberia. We also accept volunteers who are willing to work at least six months on the ground with Imani House Liberia.
Thank You from Bisi
August 13, 2009
My Dear Lisa and everyone at Plenty,
I don’t know what to say that won’t sound cliché or corny. But your email and Plenty’s decision to help us is surprising, amazing, and fabulous!
Friday we found out the roof in the current clinic’s facility was leaking badly again and the Liberian Ministry of Health came on Friday and gave us one week to move to the other building, the one we are trying to work on, or they would shut us down for good this Friday. All week I’ve been trying to figure out how to help get the other building up to par, given the little money we have. I’ve been writing and calling and demanding and cussing fate and Liberian politics, bleeding over it and trying to dig a hole in the sand to hide. So the money Plenty agreed on isn’t just money — it means so, so much more, Lisa. And having a portion of it coming from a fund from your husband, who had been so helpful to the clinic, in the worst of times, is almost mystical.
When I opened your letter I wanted to jump up and dance around the room, but with the laptop on my lap, I dropped several tears of shock and joy instead. What a wonderful and pleasant surprise! How on earth would Plenty know how desperate we are right now, how down my optimism had gone, how scared the Liberian members are. If the clinic shuts down, it would be a terrible loss to Liberia and devastating for the area our group serves.
Add to this, my husband, Mahmoud, left today to go back to Burundi and I was sitting here absorbing the stillness of the living room without him and trying hard to be okay. Liberia has become so very hard for me this year, and I was trying to put it out of my mind, especially tonight. Now I feel like there’s a bridge to get us through this, I cannot wait to get in touch with our members over there and let them know. It’s still and uphill battle, but this is good money and will bring good to the health work that we do; I know it will.
Please share my jubilation and gratitude with Peter, Chuck, and other members of the Plenty Board for their dedication to real development. And to you Lisa, I send the biggest kiss and thank you that a computer keyboard can generate. Thank you so much for bringing this idea forward, and pushing for us.
Let me know if you need me to do anything to help move it forward. We deposit all donations here in a separate bank account for Liberia. Nothing is used for New York or for administration here. Everything goes to Liberian expenses in Liberia on the ground. I wired money over on Friday and now we will be able to have them redirect some of it to get the lighting and other in the brick building so that we can try to meet the Ministry’s deadline and move things over. Then we can go forward with the plan to expand and finish the building.
I think I’ll sleep well tonight I wish the same for you and everyone else at Plenty.
All the best,
Imani House Liberia Medical Clinic
Plenty Bulletin Fall 2009, Vol. 25, No. 3
Since 1990 Plenty has provided support to Imani House International’s work in Liberia, West Africa. We have contributed soy agricultural technicians, medical equipment and small grants. Imani House operates a health clinic that serves about 14,000 mothers and children and a literacy program for about 120 “market” women in the capital of Monrovia. IHI has recently expanded the literacy program to reach eight communities outside the capital.
Internal warfare had destroyed 95% of Liberia’s health facilities and now 70% of the clinics that are in operation are run by NGOs like Imani House. Thirty government doctors and forty-six NGO doctors serve a population of 3.3 million.
Plenty is contributing $6,000 to renovate and expand the clinic and install a reliable generator for electricity to run lights and refrigeration. The Thomas Wartinger Memorial Fund is providing $2,000 of that amount. Our friends at the $10 Club have donated an additional $4,200 for the clinic. For more about Imani House please visit the website: http:/ /www.imanihouse.org