Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Renita Takes LEAD on the Road

Local Weather: Today's Hi Temp- 108.6F/43C (shade—Temp in the sun unknown; thermometer stopped working at 128.6F) Precipitation- one day of rain since mid November, approximately 1 inch.

News Headlines: Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Liberia on Thursday, promising millions in aid and forgiveness of the Liberian debt.

Renita and I divide our work here into three broad categories—her work, my work, and the work we do together. LEAD is her baby.

LEAD stands for Liberian Entrepreneurial and Asset Development, and offers a 36 hour business management course as well as a matching loan program to help small to medium sized business grow. For its first year, LEAD focused on businesses around Monrovia, and the first three classes were taught there. Already over 90 businesses have benefited from the training and loan program. Ultimately the goal is increased employment for Liberians in this land of 85% unemployment. Since the first loans distributed in July, LEAD businesses have created new jobs for about 20 people.

The long range goals of LEAD are to become national, with offices addressing the needs in each of Liberia’s 15 counties. So this time around, Renita is taking the class and the loans 80 miles down the road to Buchanan, a three hour drive on a very bad road.

The first step in the process is to find businesses that meet LEAD’s criteria for inclusion into the program. To do this, Renita, LEAD coordinator James Hilary and LEAD Buchanan coordinator Moses Haynes spread the word, take applications, and interview each business owner. The classes begin a few weeks later, and after successful completion of the program, each business may apply for a 3 to 1 matching loan from LEAD.

Below are a handful of the people who will participate in the Buchanan class. In each face I see two things. I think I see pride, because it certainly ought to be there. They have accomplished much already against crushing social and cultural odds. Next I see hope—hope that they will gain from this venture, hope that their business will grow and prosper, and hope also that this is not just another NGO big on promises and short on results.

The road to Buchanan, on an early Thursday morning. The road becomes very bad after passing the Robertsfield Airport.

They call Raymond Akinseye the "Shoe Doctor." Sells and fixes 'em.

Samuel Chemwiniin and his men are tailors. You see men at sewing machines all over.

Baryo Haynes sells textiles from all over the world. She and Samuel probably see a lot of each other.

Ah yes, Thomas Ghebhe and his USAID-sponsored Beauty "Saloon." I guess you can get clipped and hammered in one sitting. ( Jes' a yolk, folk-- everybody spells "salon" this way.)

I love this shot. William Kpoupyou and his daughter Grace amidst the car parts he sell out of a shipping container.