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At a glance: Liberia

‘I Have Something to Tell You’ – documentary gives voice to young Liberian women

© UNICEF Liberia/2009/Vigneault
Filmmaker Loch Phillips shoots a documentary, ‘I Have Something to Tell You’, giving voice to a group of 10 ambitious young women in post-war Liberia.

By Glenna Gordon and Louis Vigneault

KAKATA, Liberia, 10 March 2009 – After two decades of civil war, girls in Liberia must overcome many obstacles to achieve their dreams. A new documentary film, ‘I Have Something to Tell You’, is giving voice to a group of 10 ambitious young women who met in a workshop at the Liberia Youth Network’s centre in Kakata.

The film brought these young women together to share personal stories about their past lives, their dreams and their ongoing challenges. The filmmaker, Loch Phillips, helped them transform their stories into a script for the film. 

“I was so blown away by some of the girls’ speeches that I was tearing up behind the camera, because I felt the power of what they were saying,” recalls Mr. Phillips. “People will understand that it's hard to maintain dreams like theirs in Liberia with all that is happening to girls.”

© UNICEF Liberia/2009/Gordon
Ruth Dureng wants to be a reverend and a doctor. She stood up for her rights even though it meant turning her back on her family, and now she's managing to go to school and work towards a brighter future.

Coping with hardships

The 10 young women, ages 15 to 21, come from different backgrounds but share the common goal of living a meaningful and successful life.

Some just want to be good mothers; others want to be doctors or even president someday. But the film also reveals a tragic reality: that it is difficult to achieve any goal, large or small, in Liberia.

The young women in the film – Janice, Ruth, Joseta, Keturah, Yah, Jewri, Victoria, Elizabeth, Garnice and Betty – have all found ways to cope with the hardships of life in their country, and they are all determined not to allow Liberia’s troubled past to stand in their way.

Ruth’s story: The strength to speak out

Ruth Dureng, one of the girls featured in the film, wants to become both a reverend and a doctor. A dual career may seem challenging to some, but Ruth has overcome far greater challenges before. She was abused and forced out of her house when she refused to become the second wife of her aunt’s husband.

© UNICEF Liberia/2009/Gordon
Janice Pratt, 19, dreams of being a film maker, or perhaps the next female President of Liberia.

In a culture where women are shamed for saying ‘no’, or shunned when they are the victims of sexual violence, Ruth had the strength to speak out.

“Your ‘no’ can save and protect the generation that is not yet born,” she says. “I stood up to protect my pride, and you can do the same, no matter what the case is. Stand up. Life is better if you live it positively.”

Ruth wants to achieve many things, but she knows she will need help. “I am convinced that I cannot achieve these dreams alone,” she says. “I need education and help to foster my dreams into reality.”

Role of education

Receiving a proper education is a dream in and of itself for many girls in Liberia. Almost half of Liberian girls marry and bear children before the age of 18, and few attend school. Three out of five women in Liberia can’t read, and married women often believe that it’s acceptable for men to beat women.

When Ruth left her house, she also left behind a life of illiteracy and domestic abuse. She has embraced her future and is ready to advocate for other girls.

“I have a dream that one day this great nation, Liberia, will be free of guns, violence, domestic abuse and sexual exploitation,” she says.

Janice’s story: Mature beyond her years

Janice Pratt, another young woman featured in the documentary, is a slight girl with a strong voice.

“My name is Janice and I’m hurting,” she says, addressing her peers. “There are 10 great girls right in this room with dreams. Will they ever turn into reality? Or are we just dreaming?”

Janice is just 19, but she’s mature beyond her years. Well spoken and ambitious, she was clearly endowed with the gifts of intellect and curiosity – qualities that miraculously flourished even in war-torn Liberia, where more than a million people were displaced and thousands died during two decades of civil war.

Women bear the brunt

In Liberia, females are almost always second to men, and women bear the brunt of poverty. But that has not stopped Janice.

When she isn’t in school or in youth group, she works on a radio show that promotes positive sexual health messages for young men and women who wouldn’t otherwise have access to such information.

Janice says her long-term goal is to become a filmmaker or a journalist or, even, the second female president of Liberia.

A chance to speak up

All of the young women featured in the documentary are pushing hard to make it, but the path to achieving their goals is full of roadblocks. Given the realities of limited access to education, health care and jobs, the challenges can be daunting.

Sadly, in Liberia, even the most determined girls can fail to overcome everything that is stacked against them.

‘I Have Something to Tell You’ gives these 10 women a chance to speak up about the issues that affect them. It gives them a voice to call for the support they need in order to achieve their dreams.

In the end, as Janice Pratt puts it, “There’s nothing wrong in dreaming.”




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