Liberia: 'Crushed and Demoralized'

- 112 Women in the SRC Concession Affected Communities Benefit from Micro Loans

Crushed and Demoralized-At least 112 indigenous women who have had to live rough due to the operations of the Salala Rubber Corporation (SRC) in Margibi and Bong Counties, Liberia, have gotten some relief.

The stories of these women are heart-wrenching: The Salala Rubber Corporation, a subsidiary of a massive European Agricultural Corporation named SOCFIN, owned by two of Europe's Billionaires- Bolloré (French) and Fabri (Belgian) has for decades, grabbed not just the land of these poor communities but their wealth, culture, history and community-driven entrepreneurship.

This aggressive imperialist investment has left many crippled in different ways: a single mother uprooted from her small farm; a mother of three abandoned by the father of her children and a pregnant mother expecting her third child abandoned by her boyfriend, just to name a few. Cumulatively, successive Liberian Governments have failed them and left them to the mercy of a powerful corporation.

Therefore, it was a bit of relief for 112 indigenous women who have had to live rough due to the operations of the Salala Rubber Corporation (SRC) in Margibi and Bong Counties, Liberia. The struggling women were dislodged without mercy, from their livelihoods to make way for the expansion of the Plantation, owned by Socfin.

From eight project-affected communities in the SRC Concession area, the Women are grateful beneficiaries of a microfinance loan scheme provided by the Natural Resources Women Platform (NRWP) under the "Bread for All" COVID-19 support program. Bread for All is an NGO based in Switzerland.

The eight targeted communities included Jorkporsu, Kollen-Dapolo, Diakia Town, Blomu, Dede-Ta 1, Dade Ta 2, Kuwah-ta and Moneytai, all located in Margin County.

Beatrice Kollie, 24 years old, with three children, is from Doakai Town. Beatrice had been involved with small rice farming (from-hand-mouth) as a means of livelihood. But due to the labor intensity and unsustainable nature of the farm, she had to abandon the farming work. She said the loan scheme could not have come at a better time as it gives her some hope. She showered praises on the Women Platform and her partner for the loan - after starting a small fish business. "I want to thank you, people, for helping us with money to sell and I also want to ask that you please increase the money in the second phase."

Comfort Graham is from Kollen Town and has lived all her life there but was uprooted from her small farm, which was her only means of survival, by the SRC operations. She's a single mother with seven children and would later venture into selling on a credit basis, known locally as "sell pay."

"I used to take flour, sugar, and other materials on sell-pay to bake bread for sale." She said since she got the loan from NRWP she does not credit goods anymore. She's very thankful to NRWP for the loan and prays for the continuation of the project "so that the women can wake up and do something along with the men." Adding, "Let me bless God first because it was through God we got this money from you people."

Launching the loan scheme earlier on May 20, 2021, in Cinta Township, near the Salala Rubber Corporation in Margibi County, NRWP's Project lead and gender specialist, Windor B.K. Smith said the purpose of the engagement was to first educate women on business ideas and then empower them to get involved in small business initiatives.

"At the end of the meeting every woman will receive the amount of L$4,250.00 each as microloan to start a small business," she announced.

Ms. Smith encouraged the women to believe in themselves and do whatever it takes, to work with available resources to address issues they are faced with.

She challenged recipients of funds to repay to enable them to benefit from phase two of the program. Saying, "but don't forget to pay back your loan."

As part of the exercise, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between NRWP and the microloan recipients. Each of the women who received the loans was issued identification cards to keep a weekly record of repayments.

Ms. Smith emphasized that everyone must pay back the loans to enable the continuation of the project.

During the engagement, she also drilled the women on the different kinds of businesses that one can take advantage of.

She named palm oil, fish, charcoal, and peanut, which can be bought and sold on each of the community market days to earn fast profits.

At the close of the meeting, participants elected officers from the eight communities to head the micro loan project.

Each of the women leaders elected is responsible for recollecting the microloans in each of the communities and presenting the same to the treasurer for safekeeping and transfer later to the microloan focal person.

"I am encouraging every one of us who are about to receive the loans today to get involved in business and be able to pay back the loans within the three-month period given you. In this way, the program will extend to the next phase," said recipient Kerma Sackie.

Queita George said: "We want to thank you people for helping us. We promise to pay back the money in time."

Sonnie Cooper is a mother of three children from Kollen Town. Her children's father abandoned her and has had to scramble to keep her children alive. With the loan money, Sonnie only wants to focus on business since farming in the community is not profitable due to the lack of land space. "I don't even know what to tell you people but to say thank you because I never had anything doing again. I used to have a small business but the farming work made me go out of money, so, I want to tell you people thank you again."

Finda Bengo is from Blomu. She's expecting her third child. According to Finda, her boyfriend ran away and left her with the pregnancy and the other kids. She has been struggling alone to manage herself, the unborn child, and the two children. Her two children are out of school because she cannot afford their school fees. She used to work on the SRC plantation as a security guard but lost her job.

For Finda, the petty business has been her area. So, the loan will add value to her existing petty business. "I want to thank you, people, for the loan. I will use the money to add my business up and when we complete the loan payment, I pray that you people add the money up because things are expensive in the market."

Of the 112 women from the eight targeted communities, 19 came from Kolleh-Dapolo, 12 from Kuwah-ta, 20 were from Blomu, and 22 came from Doakai Town. Another 12 women were selected from Jorkporsue, while 13 came from Money-tail Town, six from Dedee-ta-1, and eight persons were also selected from Dedee-ta-2 respectively.

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