Being born just a few months prior to the outbreak of the 1989 Liberian Civil War, I grew up under very challenging conditions. I am the oldest of four children and I became fatherless in April 1996 when my father was killed by gunmen of the civil war while trying to find food for the family. As my mother wanted me to go to school, she sent me to live with my late father’s friend. He was kind to me but could not continue helping me when I passed to the tenth grade at the age of 16. I was sent back to live with my mom at the village. Three months after being back, my mother suffered a stroke.
To worsen the situation, while I was tending to my sick mother with my younger siblings, I was forcedly taken to a secret place in a forest by the traditional women group of my village. I was mutilated, circumcised and kept in the bush for three months so the infected wound could heal.
During that period, those women tried to coerce me into accepting that a woman has no role in society besides house work and childcare, that education is not a woman’s activity and that women going to school is a violation to the culture and norms of our society.
Upon my “graduation” from the society bush, I was forced into a traditional marriage by my uncle to marry an older man who was 60 years old at the time. I had just turned 17. I was in this forced marriage for 2 years, a period in which I faced sexual exploitation and slavery and did practically nothing to improve my life. Upon the death of my uncle who strictly believed in fostering traditional practices, I escaped from the village to find a second chance in life through education.
I thought that secondary education would allow me to acquire a college education with the help of a job but to the contrary, I could not achieve this dream because most employers in my country believe that female employees are less innovative as compared to their male counterparts. Thus, women are seldom vetted in competitive employment. I had to struggle and was barely able to pay my education expenses from tenth to twelfth grade.
A few years later, after my graduation, I found information on the Internet about the Asherah Foundation’s Second Chance scholarships for women around the world. I was anxious and happy to apply due to my great desire to earn a college degree. I finally won the scholarship and I am presently a sophomore student at Stella Maris Polytechnic in Monrovia studying Environmental Science. Moreover, I am the oldest and the only one amongst my siblings to have a secondary and college education.
This could not have been achieved without the help of community members and the Asherah Foundation’s scholarship. My dream is to gain knowledge which will give me capacities that can be used to aid in the development of my community, and especially women and children who are disadvantaged in life like I was before I was awarded this Second Chance scholarship.
My interest in community development through women and childrens’ empowerment is of paramount importance. In effect, coming from a village of about 35 huts with a population close to 250 people, majorities of whom are women and children, I have witnessed the lack of basic social services such as schools and clinics. Pregnant women and sick people must take long trips to receive medical attention. With the knowledge gained through my education, I hope to change these conditions through community-based initiatives and advocacy.
Maryline is one of Asherah Foundation’s recipients of this year’s Second Chance Scholarship for women around the globe.
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