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Tiny and tough

Liberia, March 17, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Nancy Farese for Mercy Corps  </span>
    “Mercy Corps taught us about unity, about working in groups,” Annie says. “We can go faster together." Photo: Nancy Farese for Mercy Corps

Annie Garfree is 42, with five daughters and one son. She’s soft-spoken, with smart eyes and a steely determination.

Four days a week, Annie works on her farm, growing bananas, rice, yams and cassava. She makes foufou, a thick porridge, from the cassava, and her family eats oranges and guavas that grow wild. Still, it’s not enough. “It is hard to feed all the children,” she admits. “We do not have sufficient food. When I make more money, I will spend it on food for my family first.”

The other days Annie works on the cocoa farm, located a short walk from her land. She has finished her Mercy Corps training and received her first batch of cocoa seedlings.

Before she could plant them, however, she had to clear the land that became overgrown when no one tended it during the war years. “I used the machete to cut the brush so the cocoa trees can grow,” she says. Annie is tiny – perhaps five feet tall – but she’s lean and strong. “Chopping down the forest is hard work,” she says simply. “Then you have to dig out the roots.” She was paid for her labor, through Mercy Corps’ cash-for-work initiative, which infuses much-needed money into local economies.

In addition to earning money, clearing her land, receiving seedlings, and learning how to plant and care for them, Annie is gaining new strength from her community. “Mercy Corps taught us about unity, about working in groups,” she says. “We can go faster together. I used to work on my own – but now a group of women and men come to my farm to help me.”

Today there’s a light in Annie’s eyes – and when she talks about education, they positively sparkle. Three of her children are in school, and she will send the other three as soon as she can afford it.

“At first, I did not have any hope,” she says, speaking of the hard years after Liberia’s long war, “because with the unemployment rate so high, the little we have cannot keep us up. But Mercy Corps opened the way. The only hope we have now is the cocoa. Cocoa has money in it, to keep the family up. Through my cocoa farming, I can earn more. And in the future, I will be able to pay my children’s school tuition.”