The “Money in the Bush” Campaign 2018
At a time where Hollywood-created superheroes are glorified and simple acts of human kindness are showcased in the media for “likes”, (sometimes even monetarily rewarded), I had the chance to meet one of the real live heroes who go unnoticed, and who leave you with the feeling that you haven’t quite learned everything about life.
Martha Saylon is a sixty-seven year old native woman from the rural town of Bong, in Margibi County, Liberia, West Africa. A woman with no formal education, and who society would label as illiterate, sat across from me at a table in the local mall of my town, gleaming from cheek to cheek because she was “in America,” meeting with this phenomenal woman she had recently heard about that had ventured out to Liberia just months prior, and pledged to help her fellow African women.
Martha’s goal: to make this important connection -one that could help her continue on her life’s mission to educate and support the disadvantaged youth of Liberia. Hastily, as if to not want the opportunity to pass her by, Martha pulled out a little notebook from her pocket and insisted that I write down ALL of my information, so that when she needed to contact me, she could get a friend to call on her behalf. Immediately it dawned on me -she doesn’t read or write. I obliged her request and slowly slid the notebook back across the table, realizing that it had already seen too many years, and that THIS was probably one of her most valuable possessions. She then carefully removed her traditional headdress, revealing a sea of wiry, gray hair, exposing how much hardship had taken a toll on her physically -she looked even older than she had stated. An overwhelming feeling of sadness overtook me.
With much delight, though, Martha began sharing the stories of her small village back home, the 714 orphans she had raised over the past 3 decades, ensuring they all had a uniform, books, and access to school. She worked hard to give “her kids” the opportunity to have what she didn’t. She made money growing food, (“money in the bush” as she referred to it), organizing a small farming cooperative with a few other hardworking women. With limited resources, they barely made ends meet. Doing what they HAD TO DO to feed their children, including some unimaginable acts, had become a way of life. Despite this reality, Martha and her group of women farmers were responsible for helping feed their families and the entire country during its 8 years of civil war.
Martha spoke proudly of breastfeeding over 200 babies during her years, despite only having given birth to nine children of her own. I sat there in awe thinking back to how fussy I was over the breast irritation I experienced when breast-feeding the ONE I had. Shame is an understatement. Martha went on to tell stories of the multitude of deliveries of very young new mothers she had to assist deep in the bush, with no assistance, no light, no medicine, no clean water. I thought to myself, how on earth did she know what to do? I imagined the pain and suffering, yet the kinship they all felt as mothers.
As she continued to account her stories, I found myself fighting back the tears. I thought to myself, how amazing it is to be admired as a woman living successfully in, for all intent and purposes, a privileged society, when in fact, here I was in awe of a woman who had never been afforded the opportunities I’ve had. Yet through sheer determination and relentless faith in a higher power, she had accomplished so much more than women like myself would ever dream to achieve.
I began to get lost in my own thoughts as Martha continued her stories, thinking to myself, how fortunate I was to meet a woman like Martha Saylon in my lifetime. I thought about how much I could learn from a woman like her. Suddenly, something came over me, and told me to get myself together. I immediately shrugged off the somberness I had been feeling throughout the conversation, and now felt that I, too, could not let this chance of a lifetime pass by. I looked across the table and asked her, “Martha, what can I do for you?” She sighed and replied, “I just need light for the children, so that they can do their studies at night.” I then asked her if she would do something for me too. Martha looked somewhat perplexed. I could almost hear her thoughts. What could she possibly do for a woman like me who seemingly had it all? I smiled gently, and reached across the table for her hand. My request was even bigger. “Can you teach me everything you know?”