Jessica Maiorca, MILR'10 revisits Liberia on Winter Break

Travel to Liberia for vocational training and planning experience.
Thursday, March 18, 2010

Liberia is in the midst of establishing the policies and institutions that will aid workforce development. This means that the Ministry of Planning is identifying the industries that are accelerating and the skills needed to perform jobs in these industries. The ministries of Education and Youth & Sports are setting standards for vocational training, and the ILO is guiding them through feedback.

Because Liberia is in the beginning stages of creating these policies and institutions, this was a perfect learning opportunity for me. I was able to interview several ministry representatives and receive updated reports. It was interesting to interview local and international NGOs currently conducting vocational and skill trainings in Liberia. Several of them have previously conducted trainings and have since revised their program designs. Many of these organizations are looking to the government ministries to inform them of skills that are in demand. The ability of the government to communicate market demand fluctuations will depend on the institutions it has established, as well as its relationships with the private sector.

It’s easy to feel good about the new ideas slated for implementation, but it’s also constructive to remind ourselves of who these policies and institutions are meant to serve. People are literally killing themselves to work. I caught a glimpse of this picture when I visited with the Paynesville Rock Breakers Cooperative (see photo). Loosely composed of one hundred women, the group crushes rock that is eventually sold for new construction in the area. The process entails burning a tire anywhere along the walls of rock within their community. After a few hours, the rock is soft enough for the men to break into large pieces. The women then take the rock and crush it into smaller pieces, which are subsequently sold for construction jobs.

Besides the environmental and health issues associated with crushing rocks six days a week, it’s especially cruel that their labor does not pay off. That is, many of the women do not make enough money. When I asked what “not making enough money” means, a few of them mentioned that there are days when they cannot afford to eat. They become too tired to work. It takes the help of a family member or friend to begin working again.

It’s very easy to understand the importance of work in people’s lives, and it’s important that we see it. It also reminds us – reminds me – to question how these policies and institutions are going to serve the people they target. How will Liberia’s vocational training centers cater to women, many of whom have children and homes to maintain? What is decent work for them? These are some of the questions that I hope my work can push the government of Liberia to address.