No, This Does Not Happen Everywhere

August 21, 2009 at 8:56 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In the US we think the 6-year war in Iraq is long, but what is the impact on society when war lasts 15 or 20 years? Here in Liberia there is a whole generation which has only known war, and the complete forfeiture of all civilities.  Here’s an observation by a UN war observer:

skullThere were 20,000 skulls at the end of the runway at Spriggs-Payne airport. Mine was one of the first civilian aircraft to land there after years of civil war. As you stood in the sand, red ants emerged from beneath your feet; they were feeding on human flesh. A young child shamelessly holds a skull; his father and brother fell victim to the death squads that operated here. But his eyes are clear, as if to say, “what is so unusual about this – Does this not happen everywhere in the world?” A man named Louis fought in this war; he stands by the skulls. He is a strong man, but he has troubled eyes – as if he wants to talk about something. Finally, he does. “You know we ate people during this war; not because we were hungry, but because we were scared, and to eat your enemy makes you strong.”

There is a church where 600 people were killed. There are still blood stains on the alter; they had placed small children here and made them scream, “there is no God,” as they cut their throats. There is a smell of death, and there are bullet holes everywhere. A hysteric woman tells of how soldiers at road blocks would take bets on the sex of an unborn child. They would then slice the woman open to pull out the fetus with a bayonet – to realize who had won the bet.

Apologies for that graphic history, but it’s important in understanding the environment in which Kiva and its Microfinance partners are challenged to alleviate poverty and create jobs.  This is not “just another poor country”.  As I teach Business Best Practices to our partners I’m often greeted with mouths-open disbelief.  Not because they disagree with my training but rather they can’t get past the fact that in the US we’ve had the luxury to think so deeply about such relatively inane subjects as Accounting, Finance, and Marketing.   One Kiva loan recipient responded, “What’s my break-even point?  I don’t know.  I just sell food and wonder if peace will last.”

I’m feeling guilty about disliking my university accounting classes.  Such luxuries…

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