Liberians can be heard making two statements regularly.
1. “Pray for the church, pray for the offering, pray for the poor, pray for unity in the church and in our nation, and pray for our church leaders, that they will have the courage to lead their flocks with humility.”
2. “Pray that the church might grow together with a genuine desire to see God’s kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Liberians are praying people. When I hear their prayers, I wonder how often we put our petitions into action with the same passion we have presented them to God.
Liberia is full of challenges. Sometimes I search for our nation’s most visible humanitarian who has devoted time in doing philanthropic work.
At other times I simply look for an example of that one little thing that means a lot to the poor in our land.
Monrovia is the capital of Liberia. A quarter of Liberia’s 4.6 million people live there. The city is too large, and I have no time to search it for the best example of helping others.
Newspapers don’t help. They carry reports of corruption, crime and the failure of our leaders to help us recover from our recent wars.
I grew up near Monrovia in the midst of war and the poverty and oppression it created. That is when I first saw this big dream of hope for the poor in our nation.
At Ricks Institute, I learned about “servant leadership.” Olu Menjay, Ricks’ principal, challenged us every day to be willing to give and to serve.
“If you don’t give when you are poor,” Menjay would say, “you will never give when you are rich!”
After graduating from Ricks, I spent a year at Cuttington University in Liberia. Then I had a year of study at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.
Now I am a student in Monrovia at the United Methodist University studying public administration.
Some of my friends ask what I hope to do. My response often confuses them. I tell them about servant leadership and volunteering to help the poor and oppressed in our country.
I tell them that I need to learn about public and private efforts to better Liberia. I tell them that what I am learning will make my big dream a reality.
I have other friends from Ricks Institute. Together, we learned about servant leadership and have decided to quit looking for models of leaders who will change Liberia.
Instead, we determined that we will do what we have hoped others would do.
Our commitment resulted in creating Hoping Communities in Liberia (HCL), a nongovernmental organization whose focus is building houses with Liberians who need better places to live.
Our first effort, which is nearly completed, has been to provide affordable shelter for a family that cannot afford it.
Along the way, we have relied upon our passion, our education and our experiences. It is a beginning. One house is a start.
Early in 2013, Ma-Hawa Sirleaf and her sister, Ma-Zoe, were selected as the first widows’ family to benefit from HCL.
Their husbands died in the wars. They lost children, too. They, as Liberians say, “are on their own.”
In Meme Town, a village near Ricks Institute, these two women live in a structure of discarded zinc sheets, salvaged planks and tattered plastic tarps.
They still make a living gathering oil palm kernels and refining the red oil for sale.
When the oil production is out of season, they spend their days making sweepers (other cultures would call them whisk brooms) that sell for less than a U.S. dollar.
When they have products to sell, they either have to carry their goods five miles or more, or lower their asking prices to wholesalers who negotiate the “best price,” as Liberians say.
Either way, Ma-Hawa Sirleaf and her sister, Ma-Zoe, have a hard life.
Soon these widowed sisters will move into a mud brick house with a zinc roof. They will have, for the first time since before the wars, windows and doors. The floor will still be dirt, but it will be dry, even in the rainy season.
HCL and volunteers from Ricks Institute made the bricks and raised the funds for the other materials. We have become what we were looking for in Monrovia.
How long will Liberian people live in absolute poverty? We may not eliminate it, but we all can work together to fight against it.
How long, O, Lord, will your people put words of hope in their mouths and refuse to make those words the guides for their hands?
Faliku S. Dukuly is the founder and executive director of Hoping Communities in Liberia. He is a graduate of Ricks Institute and a candidate for the bachelor of public administration at United Methodist University in Monrovia, Liberia.