MEASUAGOON: HOW RURAL LIBERIANS
ARE REBUILDING THEIR COMMUNITIES
By Harry A. Greaves, Jr.
One of the great tragedies of Liberia's seven year civil war is the terrible toll it took on rural communities. Whole villages were razed. Countless thousands were uprooted, some taking to the bush, others to the highways, all in a frantic search for food and sanctuary from marauding bands of lawless militias. And when all was done, when the guns finally fell silent, we found a nation of self-reliant farmers turned into a pitiful stream of human misery, dependent upon handouts from relief agencies.
It was in this context that Measuagoon came into being. Measuagoon is a Gola term meaning "of one word" and was the brainchild of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. In 1997, she assembled the residents of Kormah, her ancestral village near Brewerville in Montserrado county, and exhorted them not to despair, not to accept dependency as the only alternative, but instead to recognize that they had it in their power to better their condition. What they needed to do was to come together, to be "of one word" as a community and plot their own course of action to revive community life without waiting on government or any other external force. The villagers, some 150 of them, accepted the challenge and thus was born Measuagoon.
The villagers of Kormah selected as their first priority food production---rice and vegetables. They selected a project management team from their midst to guide their efforts and drew up a small list of farm tools and seeds needed to get started. Since they had little money, Ellen provided that first small infusion of cash ($1,400) to finance their purchases and off they went. By November, 125 acres had been cleared and cultivated in rice, bitterball, pepper, cabbage, eggplant, okra, tomatoes and squash.
Kormah's experiment is now in its second year. Acreage has been expanded, with extension into swamp rice, which has higher yields than upland rice and can be planted three times a year in the same location (upland rice is an annual crop which requires land rotation). The project is also leveraging the World Food Program's food-for-work program so as to leave more of the harvest available for commercial sale and income generation. Plans call for rehabilitating the village school, restoring a pump to provide clean drinking water, establishing a health facility and the construction of a village store.
In this short space of time, Measuagoon has transformed the lives of the people of Kormah. Dispirited villagers who were once hapless victims of circumstance, dependent on the largess of aid agencies, are demonstrating that they can rebuild their war-ravaged community through their own efforts without waiting on a government welfare program. The project started with 150 able-bodied men and women feeding 800 mouths. As word spread about its success, displaced villagers, including ex-combatants, began returning home. The number of beneficiaries now stands at more than 1,000.
The Kormah experience is serving as a catalyst for rural inhabitants all across our nation. People who have heard about it want it replicated in their community. So, the Measuagoon concept has been institutionalized. Measuagoon is now a registered NGO (non-governmental organization) with a national coordinating office on Broad Street in Monrovia, a small cadre of staffers to provide project design, implementation and supervision assistance and a website (http://www.measuagoon.freeserve.co.uk). The principles that guided the Kormah experience have been codified into a simple set of eligibility criteria for subsequent Measuagoon projects. These include the establishment of a community-wide participatory process for decision-making; the selection of programs that address the broadest needs of the community's membership without social, religious, political or gender discrimination; and the willingness of villagers to volunteer their services to implement community projects.
At the time of writing, there are Measuagoon projects in progress in
Montserrado, Grand Bassa, Grand Cape Mount, Lofa, Margibi and Maryland counties.
You do not have to live in a village to be a part of this experience. You
can, individually or in concert with others, adopt a village (in your home
county or elsewhere) by contacting the Measuagoon office (86 Broad Street,
Monrovia; tel: (231) 226 354; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). Visit the website
for ideas. It even has a sample project with proforma cost figures. Your
cash or in-kind contribution will help set a community on the road to self-renewal.
Then you can follow the progress of your adopted village on Measuagoon's
website and feel the satisfaction of knowing that your contribution went
towards helping real people solve real problems. Don't procrastinate! Act