Friday, March 23, 2007

The Muslim Women of Bopalu, Liberia

March 23, 2007

When I conceived "Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders," I imagined not just a radio program, but a vehicle for possible global social transformation. "Words tenderize the heart; they lead to deeds," as St. Teresa of Avila said.

At the end of my week in Liberia, our delegation flew by helicopter (there being no roads to speak of) to the little village of Bopaulu, the first Liberian village to boast a woman mayor.
We descended in the belly of a huge white UN helicopter to be greeted by the entire village, with all of the children lined up outside their schoolhouse to meet us. I was embarrassed. Such an honoring! So much expectation!

The Muslim women were waiting patiently for us. After we had arrived and were seated, this woman stood up to speak on behalf of her community. She was strikingly beautiful, with regal bearing, and she spoke eloquently in her native Kpele language. The women wanted a Women's Center, she told us, where they could gather. They wanted to learn how to read and write. Listening, my heart went out to her. Why should I be able to read and write, I asked myself, and not this beautiful woman?

Soon after leaving Bopalu, our delegation returned home. I couldn't stop thinking about the Muslim women of Bopalu and their eloquent spokeswoman, especially after my husband made these prints for me. The opportunity to make a difference in their lives came when Juli Endee, Liberia's Cultural Ambassador, paid me a visit last week. Juli is Kpele; her organization, as it turns out, Crusaders for Peace Village, has an office in Bopalu. Together we worked up a little budget: $300 for a press to make mud bricks, another $300 to pay the men to build it, $300 for 3o chairs, x amount for pads, pencils, a blackboard and books, a modest stipend for two teachers, and before you know it, we had raised enough money to launch The Bopalu Muslim Women's Literacy Project. I am so happy.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Visit From an African Queen

March 22, 2007

I met Juli Endee in Monrovia,Liberia, at the Mamba Point Hotel where I was a member of Swanee Hunt's delegation in December. Juli showed up at the leadership training workshop that was conducted by Swanee and her staff, but Juli could have given a workshop on leadership herself. That night, she rounded up the Crusaders for Peace, her band and cultural troupe, and entertained us royally. Besides being Liberia's Cultural Ambassador, Juli is a traditional African queen, so designated by the members of her Kpele tribe, and boy, can she shake it.

When I found out she was planning to be on tour in the US in February, I made sure she knew I wanted her to be a guest on Here on Earth, but she did me one better. She came to Madison and stayed with me as a guest in my home for a whole week. Now I can give a workshop on the care and feeding of queens!

Juli is a magnificent woman. While she was here she gave a master class in Chris Walker's African dance class at the UW that was so well received, the chairman of the department invited her to return with her troup in June to be a part of the World Dance Festival. But that's not all. The primary purpose of her visit to the US is to raise money and support for the Crusaders for Peace Children's Village she is building for women and children (primarily girls) who have survived Liberia's civil war. Juli used her music as a tool in helping to bring about an end to the war. As a matter of fact, as she mentioned on the air, the first soldier to lay down his arms surrendered to her. What she didn't tell us was that he first held a gun to her head.

On the last morning she was here, the two of us launched the Bopalu Muslim Women's Literacy Project which I will explain in my next posting.

Happy Spring, Everyone! Let me know what you thought of our Poetry Circle of the Air today, and how we can get more of you to call in.