By Sang Kromah
Working with Project GirlSpire has afforded me incredible opportunities to talk to some amazing women and girls from our global community. Even though Project GirlSpire is pro-women and pro-girls 365 days a year, this Women’s History Month has allowed me to get acquainted with women who are making history daily, honoring them as they take their journey rather than after. These are the women who girls in the future will look at and aspire to be. These are the women that movies and books will be written about…women who will be immortalized because of their willingness to take action now, instead of waiting for someone else to make the world a better place for them.
In 2014, Liberia was literally shut down because of the Ebola outbreak. With the disease running rampant, schools were closed with no sign of reopening in the foreseeable future. While the children of other nations were advancing, Liberian children were home, idle, trying not to contract the deadly virus. But this isn’t a sob story. From the outside looking in, the general impression was that there was no hope for Liberia, but that belief only came to the minds of those who’ve never met a Liberian woman before. For if you’ve ever met one, you’d know that, in their minds, hope never declares a recess. As long as there’s life, there’s a way.
Meet Brenda Brewer Moore, a Human Resources Specialist who refused to let Ebola keep Liberian students behind in their studies. In a time where people were afraid to reach out, Moore and her team courageously went from door to door, delivering educational materials to keep children engaged. Now that the threat of Ebola no longer lingers, KEEP (Kids Educational Engagement Project) Liberia has transitioned into a program that offers various levels of support to Liberia’s education sector, including female empowerment programs.
Sang Kromah (SK): Liberia is notable for many things; being Africa’s first independent nation, having the first democratically elected female president in Africa, and most recently the Ebola epidemic, but tell us about your Liberia. What makes Liberia special to you?
Brenda Brewer Moore (BBM): What makes Liberia special for me is the resilience of our people. Our ability to cope with the worst circumstances; put it behind us and forge ahead. I love how we are able to find—even the dimmest and most traumatic situations—we’re pretty good at using humor to deal with our pain and trauma. I also love that we—Liberians—are very friendly, very welcoming with a good family support system.
(SK): Were you educated in Liberia? If so, what major changes have you seen since you were a student?
(BBM): Yes I was. With the exception of a brief stint of about 5 months at a secondary school in Sierra Leone, I went all through high school in Liberia. I did however obtain my Masters degree in Ghana.
What has changed? Hmm, I have noticed that a lot of the high school graduates I encounter still need a bit more processing. Their writing skills leave a lot to be desired, and ability to express themselves. I think during my school days, it was a bit better.
(SK): What is KEEP and what was the motivation behind this initiative?
(BBM): KEEP stands for Kids Educational Engagement Project and this initiative started in 2014, during the height of the Ebola virus outbreak in Liberia. The government of Liberia closed all schools in the country as an effort to help curb the spread of the Ebola virus. So I started homeschooling my two kids. I would print out free worksheets from online that matched our Liberian Ministry Of Education school curriculum. However, going to work daily, I saw other kids in my community idle and decided to also reach out to them. I used about $200 and printed out worksheets and coloring pages for up to 150 kids and got some other educational supplies like crayons, pencils, sharpeners, etc. and each week, would take a new set of lessons to them. If they completed the previous homework left, we would give a new set.
Many others joined as volunteers to help us reach the kids. We couldn’t congregate the kids, so we had to go from home to home to give the packets and follow up with the kids. We worked closely with parents and older siblings who were at home.
Long story short, we were able to reach over 7000 children in 7 months in more than 70 communities in Liberia.
This grassroots interactive experience made me realize many things; one of which is that we all have to get involved if we wanted lift Liberia from its current state. I also realized that we still a long way to go in developing our country and that the education system left a lot to be desired, with many of the teachers we interacted with themselves barely able to read and comprehend.
I visited over 30 communities in rural Liberia and came face to face with poverty and it broke my heart. It has motivated me to do more.
We have since transitioned into a more structured organization that continues to work at the grassroots level in three counties in Liberia (Grand Gedeh, Gbarpolu & Montserrado), providing more sustainable actions at the grassroots community levels that focus on providing various support in the education sector, particularly at the primary school level. We also engage in women & girls empowerment, economic livelihood, access to justice, promotion of rights in schools, strengthening youth education through computer and reading literacy programs, child sponsorship and advocacy.
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(SK): I would imagine, it takes an immense amount of tenacity to go out into the field during a time where people were being told to limit human contact. Were there ever times when you were afraid for your own well-being?
(BBM): Yes there were several. Let me tell you of one experience. This was in August, the height of the Ebola outbreak and we had taken educational kits to over 25 homes in a community not far from mine and at the time, we weren’t wearing personal protection gear, like gloves and there was this child who we had given an educational kit to that contained crayons, coloring pages, pencils etc. and she was so excited that people had come to her home and brought something for just HER. She ran to me and hugged me.
For a second, I froze in deep fear because we all knew that Ebola could be contracted through touch. I also knew that her parents were watching me to see my reaction. So rather than push her away, I knelt down to her level and told her I was happy she was happy for the educational kits and hope she would write in the books we had left for her, but she should know that there is a sickness in Liberia called Ebola and you get it from touching people, so she should not be touching strangers because I could have made her sick and she would make mommy sick.
I got up and left, not long after that and that was when we started wearing gloves in our outreach. I realized also at that point, I could’ve also gotten infected and infected my family in turn. It was a profound moment for me. But it didn’t scare me enough to stop, just enough to take extra precautions like wearing gloves, long sleeves, rain boots, etc.
(SK): With such a major undertaking, how big is the team you work with? And if you use volunteers, was it difficult recruiting volunteers during the height of the Ebola epidemic?
(BBM): During the Ebola response, we had up to 25 volunteers. Some were regulars, others intermittent. It was pretty easy. People wanted to help, to be a part of the solution. They give their time, their resources. We had lots of university students who were idle and volunteered. We also had professional people who came in to help when they could.
(SK): Besides your work with KEEP, what else are you passionate about?
(BBM): Human Resource Management! I am a certified Senior Professional Human Resource practitioner. I have an executive Masters in business administration from the Ghana Institute of Public & Management Institute (GIMPA) in Ghana.
I love working with people. I love developing policies, setting up systems. I love that very much and have been a practicing HR Professional for over 12 years and have been blessed to have worked with some really good organizations. Currently, I serve as the VP for Membership with the first and only HR Association in Liberia, the Association of Liberia Human Resource Professionals (ALHRP).
I am also a member of the only open Toastmasters club in Liberia, the Ducor Toastmasters, where we go to improve our public speaking and leadership skills.
I also love, love, love gardening, but have not had much time to do it as much as I used to before, due to time. But I love flowers. I love watching a seed grow into a thing of such great beauty.
(SK): As a girl, who were your female role models (fictional, real-life, or famous)? Who inspires you now, as a woman?
(BBM): Ha! There are so many women who have played a role in molding me into the woman I am today. Where do I start with that?
Ok, my mom. My mom is my all time role model. She continues to inspire me with her passion, zeal for life. Her care for others. Her ability to make tough decisions. Her go-getter attitude. Her resilience and strength. She’s been dead for 7 years now, due to breast cancer, but she continues to inspire me.
Another person who I consider a role model would be Korto Reeve Williams. Years back, I used to listen to this woman speak her mind. Engage men in tough discussions. Challenging and questioning the status quo of the role of women and girls, on gender inequality. On the supposed “role” of a woman, and I used to say to myself, I wish I could be like her. To be so bold. Articulate. Fearless. Yet, caring, supportive and friendly. Finding that balance can be hard. Challenging can be hard and she has motivated me over the years in so many ways I cannot begin to explain.
And despite how I may feel about her stance and productivity and impact in Liberia over the last 10 years, whatever disappointments I may have of her leadership, I will say Ellen (Liberia’s current president). Because she proved that a woman can sit at the decision making table and play poker just as fiercely as any man. She may not necessarily be a role model, but I admire that tenacity in her as a woman and showing that women can assume even the highest office in Liberia, after over 150 years.
(SK): Our words have the power to immortalize us, what message would you like to leave for girls today and for generations to come?
(BBM): Education is powerful. Stay focused. Be brave. Dream. Aspire.
If you’re interested in being featured, contact Sang at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re interested in joining the Project GirlSpire team, contact our Editor-in-Chief, Tina Lu at email@example.com.