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Emma Thompson’s and Tindy’s visit to Liberia for International Women’s Day

Wednesday, April 13, 2011 - 17:53

Hollywood actress and her adopted son and former child soldier visited Liberia.  

Day 1  - Friday 4th March

Today the actress Emma Thompson and her adopted son Tindy arrived from the UK along with Susan Mearns, the celebrity manager from London.  Moses, one of the AA drivers, went along to pick the team up from Robertsport International Airport and took them all to the RLJ Kendeja hotel.  They will all be spending the next week with us here in Liberia and visiting the various projects that ActionAid Liberia works on. The visit will focus on women’s rights especially since the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day is coming up in a few weeks!

Korto Williams, the country director went along to greet the team to run through the busy schedule for the week.  First Impressions…everyone seems easy going and very down to earth, not what you would expect from a celebrity!

Day 2  - Saturday 5th March

Today we took Emma and Tindy on a tour of Monrovia to show them the city.  We really wanted to highlight the development context-historic areas and urban poverty that exists here.  First we took them Ducor Palace Hotel, which was famously used by Charles Taylor as a barracks during the war.  Then we went on to Westpoint, the largest shanty-town in Monrovia. Tindy seemed especially excited by the buzz of the city and they both took everything in their stride.

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Joanna Kerr, who is the CEO of the ActionAid International arrived to join the team on the next day.  Soon after her arrival, Joanna went to meet with journalists from FrontpageAfrica, New Narratives, Liberia Women Democracy Radio and The News newspaper.  Having Joanna here was a great opportunity for us to increase visibility of AA in the local press and also gave the media a chance to find out about AA’s plans for the future.

Day 3 – Sunday 6th March

Today the team went to visit the Peacebuilding and Leadership Programme communities in Grand Cape Mount County, which is about a two hour drive from Monrovia.  We thought this would be a perfect project for Tindy to visit due to his former days as a child soldier in Rwanda. 

Tindy, met up with Dennis Boima, who is an ex-child soldier.  Dennis showed Tindy around his house that he built himself.  You could see immediately that they really got on really well and could obviously relate to each other because of past that they shared.  We also organized a football game for Tindy and some of the boys in the community.  Tindy was a really good sport and got stuck in with every task he was handed.

Meanwhile Emma met up with a couple of women who are taking part in ActionAid's Reflect programme, which is a model for peace-building and leadership skills.  One of the women she met with was Massah Manobahleh, a 33-year-old with four children, whose husband and mother were both killed by rebels during the war and she was tragically raped. 

Day 4 – Monday 7th March

The next project we went to visit was in Gbarpolu.  This was the Stop Violence against Girls in Schools project and the RRPL communities.  We wanted to introduce the women and girls who benefited from AA Liberia’s three year reintegration project.

Emma spent a couple of hours with women and girls who have been on the projects designed to tackle violence against girls in education.  I think she was very shocked to see that girls were selling their bodies in return for good grades.  They went on to meet women who benefited from Vocational Skills Training and the REFLECT/Peacebuilding activities in the area.

Joanna Kerr and Korto headed back to town for a meeting with UNICEF Country Representative Isabel Crowley.

So far the visits have all gone very well and everyone is very humbled by Emma’s down to earth nature. She has interacted so well with everyone she met and made them feel so at ease, she is a joy to have around.

Day 5  - Tuesday 8th March

Montserrado County was next on the agenda.   We wanted Emma and the team to see an agriculture project supported by IFAD to get an understanding of challenges women smallholder farmers face in regards to the Hungerfree Campaign objectives.  

They met various people taking part in the project and came to understand how agriculture was destroyed during the war. Once again Emma got stuck in, she carried a large tub of sweet potatoes on her head to one of the villages, which did not seem to impress the husband of the villager she was with!

Day 6 – Wednesday 9th March

In the morning we went to Rural Montserrado, Terra Villa to visit the Women Won’t Wait, LIWEN, LIGHT (women) and Alliance.  We met many women and other individuals working on HIV and Access to Justice Issues.

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Then in the afternoon we went to visits Liberia Women’s Democracy Radio Station.  This is the first women radio station in Liberia and Emma and Tindy had a chance to meet the women working at the station “Giving the voice to voiceless.” 

Emma was very shocked to hear stories about Female Genital Mutilation and the reluctance of people in Liberia to talk about this publicly.

Day 7  - Thursday 10th March

A busy day ahead for all today. First up was the Search for Common Ground project. The point of this meeting was to talk to children affected by the war; some of whom may have been child soldiers. A total of 10 ex-child soldiers were invited and we had lunch and music and Tindy once again had a chance to share some of his life experiences with people who would really understand.

Joanna Kerr met with the Ministry of Gender and Development in order to escalate issues around criminalizing Harmful Traditional Practices and emphasizing ActionAid’s commitment to support a change in the position and condition of Liberian women.

Then we went on to the Celebration of Women award ceremony, to mark 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.  The programme recognized 100 women in Liberia who all received awards including the current President.

At the end of the day Emma, Joanna and Korto went to meet President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to discuss ActionAid Liberia’s added value to the country’s development.  Joanna Kerr presented the President with her ‘Celebration of Women’ award.  The meeting went really well and we hope that this enables strong future relations with the President.

Day 8  - Friday 11th March

This is the final day today.  Emma and Tindy have a chance to go out and explore in the morning before a press briefing at the hotel.  Emma spoke out and named women as the “most promising resource” in Liberia and ask for greater investment in women and girls. 

In the afternoon the team head off to the airport to head back to London.  We will be sad to see them go. The visit has been a real success and we hope we have managed to give them a great insight into Liberia and the hard work all the staff at AAL are doing!