Liberia – June 27 2019

Wading through the waters

In the Gaye Town community in the southeast of Monrovia, Liberia, palm trees, high grass and water dominate a landscape scattered with makeshift houses. It is a common sight in Monrovia, where a 14-year civil war and population growth has led to the rapid expansion of informal settlements in high-risk areas such as low-elevation coastal regions and swamps.

Sitting on the porch of one of these houses is mother of eight, Susana Koh, who is preparing tiny bags of groundnuts that she hopes to sell. The flooding has made it hard for her to find work and is a constant danger to her children’s health.

“One of the biggest challenges we face is the water,” Susana told us.  “When the water rises it enters our houses and leaves us nowhere to sleep. We block the doors with pillows, put our mattresses together and sleep with the children.

“During the rainy season, it is particularly difficult for the little ones. On some days, there is no place to move, nowhere to play, nowhere to go. They are stuck in one place.

“And because this is swampland, our houses are slowly sinking.”

Susana joined the SOS family strengthening programme in 2015, and we are helping her, and others in her community, to become financially secure so she can improve her family’s living conditions and eventually move to a safer home.

Most of the families we support in Monrovia live in shanty houses built in swamps, just like hers. When the rainy season comes, residents are forced to balance on cinder blocks to get into their corrugated sheet houses or enter some of their rooms.

“Some communities do not have toilets,” Augustine Allieu, National Director for SOS Children’s Villages Liberia explains. “At night, people have to go outside to relieve themselves and when they wake in the morning they find faeces floating in the waters around their homes, or sometimes even inside them.”

Before joining the SOS programme, Susana supported her family by working as a trader, but her business was dependent on short-term loans from vendors. Tired of relying on credit associations with exorbitant interest rates, she tried to save enough money to not be reliant on loans, but she found herself having to dip into her savings whenever a member of the family became unwell or an unexpected expense arose. Then she would have to start saving all over again.

“The SOS team introduced me to the village savings associations,” Susana says. “At first, I was a bit reluctant to join one, but some friends who have been part of one for a long time told me otherwise. I’m now at ease knowing that I can save money and provide for my family at the same time.”

SOS is currently supporting 215 families in Liberia through its family strengthening programmes. In the wake of the Liberian civil war and the Ebola epidemic which devastated the country in 2015, our focus has turned from the provision of emergency provisions for those in humanitarian crisis, to the long-term recovery of communities. We are offering families like Susana’s access to skills training, community loans, and income-generation support so they can provide a better future for their children.

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