A leader for now and for the future

Gerry, our communications officer in Liberia, reflects on an inspiring year.

Gerry Naughton
Gerry Naughton
Communications officer, Liberia

Back to all stories | Posted on 04 Jan 2018 in Life in Liberia

“Which child’s story has moved you most this year?”

It’s a hard question to answer.

I spent time with Mariama, whose mother died in childbirth, but whose teacher described her as “brilliant.” I spoke to Bendu, who has five sisters who look after themselves since their mother died, and who wants to be Liberia’s next female president. I met Anthony, who has the highest average in his class and lives in a village named after his grandfather.

The truth is I loved meeting every single one of them. I am touched by their dynamism and dedication. Their warmth. Their hope. Their simplicity. Their love of life.

I never fail to go away feeling that I have benefitted from the encounter as much, if not more than, they have.

I can’t measure the gratitude I feel towards these amazing children for letting me into their lives.

One example of that was Marthaline.

A Mary’s Meals school feeding officer said he had come across a girl in one of the schools he monitors, who I should meet. “She is from a poor background,” he said, “and is confident and lively, and a leader among her friends and classmates.” 

The day I met Marthaline was PE day, and the whole school was outside, running, jumping and doing exercises. Marthaline couldn’t control her exuberance and demonstrated a few impromptu cartwheels.

I spoke to Marthaline in the principal’s office of her school in Sawegbe – a village in Montserrado county, a long way off the main road – and she described how she wants to be a doctor.

“There is no doctor in this community,” she said. “It’s a long way to be treated and get medicine. Once, when I got sick, they took me there. I had a pain in my head and my stomach. That’s where I saw a doctor working. So, if I become a doctor, I will stay here to work, because the community needs it.”

Marthaline is president of the school’s health club. The club encourages good hygiene, but covers the same ground as any ordinary youth club. The school principal said Marthaline lives for the health club.

When I asked her who she lives with, Marthaline laughed. “They are plenty,” she explained. Her mother died of Ebola, and her father is rarely around, so she lives with her grandmother – a sprightly little woman aged between 60 and 70. She was one of 13 siblings and also had 13 children herself, and more than ten of her children and grandchildren live with her. She supports them all by making brooms from palm leaves and selling them for 25 Liberian dollars (about 15p) in the market or to passers-by. Marthaline helps her.

While life is tough for Marthaline, she is growing up in a loving family thanks to her grandmother. In providing a daily meal Mary’s Meals makes life a little easier for her grandmother and gives Marthaline a crucial opportunity to work hard at school which she is grabbing with both hands. As are all of the thousands of children receiving Mary's Meals in Liberia. I can't wait to see what 2018 brings for this new generation.