Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

How One Liberian Woman Changed My Mind About Global Agriculture

September 05, 2013

 It was here that I met a woman named Addy—a young, single mother who had one of the most infectious smiles I’ve ever seen. As we walked through the grounds, she pulled me aside and began to tell me her story. Addy was, by her own apt description, a survivor.As ONE’s Global Health Policy Director, I have a confession to make that may not surprise you: of all the issues we work on, I am seriously biased in favor of global health. Sure, I can acknowledge that health cannot exist in a vacuum, and that our other issues are equally important for a country’s overall development. No offense to my colleagues, but I’ve just always had a hard time getting excited about issues like agriculture. There’s nothing quite like talk about seeds, irrigation, markets and post-harvest loss to put me straight to sleep.

That all changed when I visited the Community Youth Network Program (CYNP) in Bensonville, Liberia last week. Junior Toe, a former child soldier in the Liberian Civil War, started this farming collective in 2008 as a way to provide constructive employment opportunities for people seeking a brighter future. Set on lush, rural acres of land, CYNP equips hundreds of men and women with agricultural skills and helps to provide a therapeutic outlet for many still harboring psychological scars from the war.

It was here that I met a woman named Addy—a young, single mother who had one of the most infectious smiles I’ve ever seen. As we walked through the grounds, she pulled me aside and began to tell me her story. Addy was, by her own apt description, a survivor. She had been victim of rape at least twice, she had lost her husband, and she had been left to care for three children on her own. After trying to make ends meet by working brutal hours in a local mine, she felt at a loss and was still unable to scrape together the fees needed to send her children to school.

A few years later, she became connected with CYNP, and her world changed dramatically. She was able to earn a living through work she was proud of, tilling the land and harvesting beautiful produce including cucumbers, eggplants, “scream beans,” and cassava. She learned how to assess customer demand and grew to understand local market dynamics. But perhaps more importantly, she told me that she was most proud that through her work in agriculture, she could teach her children important life lessons—not just farming skills, but also patience, perseverance and dedication. For her, farming was much less about income generation, and was so much more about self-worth, dignity and motherhood.

As I listened to her story, I felt a shift in my own head in terms of how I related to agriculture. I may never feel passionate about farming, but now that I have made a human connection, it has become so much more real and compelling for me. So now when I think of agriculture, I won’t think of seeds and post-harvest loss. I’ll think of Addy, and I’ll actually feel inspired to take action in support of farmers like her. I hope you will too.

 
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