President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says improvement in the conditions of market buildings throughout the country is a manifestation of giving back to those who have done so much that they deserve to be rewarded.
President Sirleaf made the statement on Thursday, August 23, at the Monrovia City Hall, where she joined women of the Liberia Marketing Association (LMA) and special guests for the premiere screening of a 19-minute video documentary on the Sirleaf Market Women's Fund (SMWF), a private initiative of the President to empower marketers.
According to an Executive Mansion release, the United Nations Development Programme plans to screen the documentary in other African countries to enable people there to learn from the achievements of Liberian market women.
Before commencing her remarks, the Liberian leader called for a moment of seated silence in honor of Liberian women who, during the country's civil conflict, took on family responsibilities, going through dangerous places, with some dying in the process. "They deserve such recognition," President Sirleaf said.
Providing a synopsis of the Fund, the President explained that, on assuming the presidency in 2006, the condition of market buildings in the country was terrible - something which touched her deeply, compelling her to start thinking about what to do. She indicated that Madam Thelma Awori and others suggested the idea of the Sirleaf Market Women's Fund.
"The markets were in deplorable condition. At the African Union Regional Summit, I appealed for donations and was able to raise US$50,000 and US$25,000, respectively, for rehabilitation of the Jorkpen Town Market," the President recalled. In addition, she was able to raise US$500,000 from the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority in the United States for the construction of the Omega Market in Paynesville.
The Sirleaf Market Women's Fund is intended to capacitate Liberian marketers, enabling them to better plan their lives, the President said, adding, "This is to encourage Liberian market women to remain strong and firm to face the challenges ahead of them," the chief patron of the Liberia Marketing Association said, urging those women who often feel that they are too old to go to school, that that they can be literate in another way.
Among the future plans for the SMWF, President Sirleaf listed the construction of primary schools in markets throughout the country for market women's children; the establishment of banking institutions at the various markets to enable marketers to save their money there instead of taking it home for criminals to rob them. She also suggested the construction of cold storage facilities at market sites, aimed at helping market women who sell frozen foods, greens, peppers, okra and other food items to preserve their produce.
In her remarks, Dr. Awori, President of the SMWF's International Board, said that the Fund works to strengthen Liberian market women through the provision of market infrastructure, skills training and financial tools. "It seeks to increase public awareness of their plight and strengthen them in securing a better future for them and their families, communities and their country." She disclosed that UN Women has donated US$3 million for the construction of eight new market buildings.
The Executive Director of SMWF, Pia Brown, said that since its establishment in 2006, the Fund has constructed and rehabilitated 13 market buildings throughout the country: at ELWA Junction, Zorzor, Rally Time, Bopolu, Red Light, Redemption, Totota, Zwedru, Zogolema, Omega, Duala, Barnersville and Saclepea. In addition, about 600 marketers have completed market management training, and 300 more are expected to enroll for the next training program.
Madam Brown pointed out that about 700 marketers of the Liberia Marketing Association have already benefitted from a micro-loan scheme program. Currently, nearly 500 marketers have attended SMWF adult literacy classes, where they learned to read, to calculate, check their money and make receipts. One of the main aims and objectives of the Fund, she added, is to create a market village system that will attract tourism in Liberia.
The Executive Director announced plans to construct modern urban-rural markets in Ganta, Nimba County, and Voinjama, Lofa County. When completed, they will among the best markets in the history of Liberia, divided into four sections, for such goods as clothing, plastics, meat, dry fish, dry goods and vegetables.
The program was attended by international and national guests, among them ministers of government and scores of market women from all over the country.