Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Madame President

Sherick (a PYPP fellow within our office), Jennah, Her Excellency, me, and Dan

Last Wednesday, our office had the privilege of meeting with Her Excellency. Originally, our meeting was set in order to discuss the future of the Philanthropy Secretariat (the office's 3-year pilot period ends next year). The discussion however quickly turned into the value of philanthropy in Liberia.

I'm not sure what I expected from the President, but a few things surprised me: 1. she came in by herself - not one aide with her 2. she had read our report entirely and was very clear about what she agreed and disagreed with 3. Along the same lines of the first two surprises, she had no notes with her.  I was pleasantly surprised at all this, because I know there are many initiatives under the President's office, and she has a lot of engagements inside and outside the country. The President's main message to us was that she wanted to see foundations align their investments more with Liberia's Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS). She also wanted to see more harmonization among the various philanthropic initiatives in Liberia, so programs could be scaled up for greater impact.

My first impression of the President was that she was indeed the iron lady that everyone describes her as. She had a very stern look on her face as Minister Davis spoke about the things that the Philanthropy Secretariat has been doing. The meeting lasted about 45 minutes, and it was only after about 30 minutes that she started getting softer around the edges. After giving us some constructive criticism, she praised the work that we were doing. I had the opportunity to speak towards the end of the meeting; after telling her Excellency some of the things that I was working on this summer, she asked me if I was being stretched to my capacity. I told her yes :)

FYI: The President's Young Professionals Program (PYPP) is a program which funds recent University of Liberia grads to work in government for two years. The program is very competitive, and this year there were less than 10 recipients. 

Work Work Work Work Work Work Work

So I realize that I haven't discussed work much, so I've devoted this post to some work related things.


Top two pictures are of the UN officers that guard the front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (yes they're women, fitting I know). There are some men soldiers that guard the entrance, but the majority are women.
The bottom picture is the ministry of Foreign Affairs. Like I mentioned in an earlier post, the building doubles as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Executive Mansion (5th and 6th floor).

What can I say about the protocol at the mansion, well in one word: frustrating. It's frustrating because we are at the mercy of the security, and whatever they feel like doing one day, despite the fact that it was different than the day before, will be the protocol of the day. One day they will stop our car and make us do the entire security check (under the hood, pop the boot, check under the vehicle), and the next day they'll wave us through without getting out of the security booth. Sometimes I can predict correctly what they're going to do (it is highly dependent on whether the President has come in, or whether official state visitors are coming to the mansion). It's annoying. What's worse is that we have to deal with them three times a day. 

Once we're in the compound, then we have to deal with the security at the front door, another hassle. 
One day it's 'put your bag down then walk through the metal detector', another day it's 'we won't search your bag we've seen you everyday for the past 6 weeks' (yes, but yesterday you searched my bag and you've seen me everyday for the past 6 weeks). 

Once we get through the front door, the elevator becomes the next hurdle. One day it's 'the President's coming' (so we have to have the elevator available for her when she comes), or only ministers get to use the elevator (which is a LIE!). My favorite is when they just blankly stare at me like they do not know what I'm asking them; my second favorite is 'i like it when you take the stairs'. I'm not sure if I have mentioned that we have to ask for the elevator to come down to the bottom floor. So that people don't jam up the elevator, there is an operator inside who controls it (you're not allowed to touch any of the buttons). It usually sits on the 6th floor (the President's floor), but when people need to go up, the security at the front desk radios the elevator operator to come downstairs and pick us up.

My frustrations have been lessened because I've decided that the best way to get what you want is to befriend the security officers. They all know me now, 'oh Afua, Ghana girl'. Sorry, Ghana gets more of the response that I want than 'oh Afua, US girl'; and the US usually doesn't stick because people know that afua is a Ghanaian name. I identify myself as Ghanaian, and just explain that I live in the states.

 Ministry of Gender visit

Our boss, Minister Davis gets invited to many government functions. He isn't able to attend some, so sometimes he sends people in his office to go on behalf of him. A couple weeks ago, Jennah and I went to hear a discussion on the Economic Empowerment of Adolescent Girls & Young Women (EPAG) project at the Ministry of Gender and Development. We sat in a room with about 50+ people from various government ministries as well as various local NGOs and international organizations. Two consultants from Denmark had conducted a report on the progress of this project. The project is a collaboration between the Liberian Government, the World Bank, the Government of Denmark, and the Nike Foundation. EPAG seeks to smooth the path of young women to productive employment through job skills training and business development services. It's a pretty extensive 3-year pilot project; there are four NGO training providers aiming to train 2500 young women in nine communities in Liberia. The consultants spoke a lot about coordination challenges among the different programs, and encouraged more collaboration. The second major issue brought up was the reporting across programs. Reporting issues ranged from getting uniformed financial statements turned in on time (from all the programs), to 'how does one measure whether or not a young lady has been empowered?

Redemption Hospital
In addition to working on the website and helping plan Liberia's annual Foundations Meeting in September, I have my very own project: Redemption Hospital. Redemption Hospital is a government hospital in New Kru Town. A funder is looking to provide them with a grant, and I've been put in charge of assisting the hospital personnel get together all the requested documents, and itemize their needs for the hospital. I've been inspired by the leadership team at the hospital, and have enjoyed getting out of the office and visiting another part of town.

The Beach!

RLJ Kendeja

A couple weeks ago, a friend and I went to the beach :) It was nice to get away on a Sunday afternoon and sip some drinks, read, and splash in the water. Currently, I am reading a book about Liberia The House at Sugar Beach’. The author, Helene Cooper, is a writer for the NYTimes  and has written a few articles about Liberia.

Kendeja  is a villa-style hotel with a private beach front. The hotel is owned by Bob Johnson, founder of BET, so it's a popular expat spot. Their internet is also super fast! Jennah and I actually ended up coming to Kendeja on Monday when the internet wasn't working in the office.