Looking Up

August 28, 2010
Monrovia, Liberia
Annie Foley, LitWorld

What is the power of a smile? To smile at someone conveys that you recognize their individuality, that you appreciate their essence, you are happy to share their company. To smile at someone sends the message that you have a peaceful heart and are open to connection. Contrarily, a stern face is a shield, a measure of protection in the face of uncertainty and fear. Withholding a smile sends a message of defense and impasse.

Yesterday LitWorld promoted the smile. Upon arrival the young women from the YAI Liberian Center for Women and the professional women from Liberian politics were very serious. Both groups of women had come to the Ministry of Gender to initiate an important mentoring relationship. Everyone in the room sensed the grave nature of our work. No one dared make light of the dire situation for women in Liberia: merely 5% have completed primary school, 7% have completed secondary school, literacy rates are as low as 26% and over 70% of all girls under the age of 15 have experienced sexual violence, rape being called “common habit”.

Faces in the room reflected caution and sobriety. The professional women told their stories of struggle and triumph. Once girls with lice and jiggers, selling goods in the market for school fees, walking miles to get educated, these women had risen from the dust to succeed and become decision-makers. The young women were riveted and nodded with tears of empathy in their eyes.

Then we sang.

And we smiled.

And together our voices filled the room with happy, hopeful noise. Our song propelled us to joyfully join together to reminisce of our past, consider our present and dream of ways to uplift our common future.