In Swansea, in 2006 following a British Council Exchange by Daniel Nyon, a head teacher of a small school in Paynesville, a group of women from Africa, Continental Europe and Wales, set up Women4Resources.
Jennifer Twelvetrees, the founder of W4R, had shown Daniel round some Community Development Schemes in Swansea and at the end of his visit to the Minority Ethnic Women’s Network, he asked if the group would be prepared to work with women in his community. He explained that his wife, Esther and some friends, were trying to set up a support system for women who had just come through the fourteen-year civil war. Many had lost their husbands others had lost their chance of an education and now were the sole supporters of their family.
Daniel explained that what the group needed in a post conflict situation was for the women to work together to rebuild their community and work towards eliminating poverty there. We also learned that in a time of conflict, personal violence against women had increased resulting in a desperate need for support following rape and physical abuse.
Daniel alerted us to the extreme levels of poverty: in Liberia one third of the population lives below the poverty line of less that $1 a day. The women in this group earn it by breaking rocks which they prise out of the hillside. The stones are then used for road making and house building.
Although we are working with women, we draw our support from people of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities. We were heartened by the response from the men we met in Liberia.
As Daniel told us,
“The greatest resource we have is the women’s commitment to making a better life for their families”.
We are working closely with ‘Hope for Grace Kodindo’ and supporting their work tackling maternal mortality in Liberia. One in six women die in childbirth, often through easily preventable conditions.
The resources we wanted to share were skills, expertise, time and money with enthusiasm and commitment to women in Wales and Africa. The first fundraising W4R organised was to enable the Paynesville group to open an email account and to access Internet facilities.
Esther told us that what her growing group of women wanted to do was some skills training for work. They wanted to learn to sew, but didn’t have a machine, to read and write, to make soap and to bake, but needed money for teachers and for materials. So Women4Resources – now a registered charity, was set up to raise money to support this group of Liberian women. We realised that women were doing eight hours of hard physical labour starting at 6 am before spending three hours training with the group, so it was important to provide money for food each time they met.
They worked together to stir the soap mixture and form it into balls, ready to be dried and then sold in the community. Large families with no washing machines get through a lot of soap! The money raised goes back into the training project. The group has started to learn to bake using a converted fridge heated by charcoal. Food such as banana bread and donuts are readily saleable locally.
We also saw the inspiring efforts the group are making to support each other to fight violence against women. Financial independence is the key to empowering women to be able to challenge violence in their own lives and within the community and take their place in Civil Society. This is mirrored in government campaigns.
By December 2007, the group was growing. They had a sewing teacher and started making simple school uniforms for children who could not afford them. Regina, their teacher learned to sew on a United Nations Education Programme for young people, just as the civil war was coming to an end. She now teaches and makes clothes to sell in the local market.
When we arrived in January 2008, we expected a group of about twelve but were delighted to find thirty-five women all working steadily through the sewing syllabus, or waiting patiently for their chance to try out a new technique.
We know that rape, sexual health and HIV/AIDS are issues which continue to need addressing for women everywhere. We want to raise money to support and inform women specifically in these areas since women cannot be independent if they are in danger from sexual violence.
Literacy and ‘micro finance loans’ are the routes to setting up in small businesses. Many women are finishing their training and are now ready to move on to independent work. They need small amounts of money for basic equipment and materials to get them started. We plan to give loans to groups of four women who will support each other and make sure collectively that the loan can be repaid so that further groups can benefit.