Mercyhurst student starts poverty initiative in Liberian homeland

MU Sister Kade
On the cusp of earning her bachelor’s degree in social work from Mercyhurst University this spring, Sister (Wilhelmena Browne) Kade has taken the old proverbial saying — “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” — to new heights.

Inspired by the Sisters of Mercy and the university’s commitment to service, Sister Kade launched the People’s Initiative Against Poverty (PIAP), a grassroots movement designed to give young adults in her native country of Liberia a sense of purpose. Initially targeting Pleebo City, the project engages residents in an agricultural and livestock venture that helps them meet their nutritional, educational and economic needs.

“The main focus of this project is to empower the people as we fight to reduce poverty,” said Sister Kade, whose country faces high unemployment rates and a flailing economy caused by a 14-year civil war that ended nearly a decade ago.

Last summer, when she was home on break, Sister Kade was able to secure five acres of farmable land from the city’s governing elders. She then rallied 20 young men and women as volunteers to begin raising money for an irrigation system and to plant crops.

“In Pleebo, there is no running water and no electricity,” she said. “Inadequate roads have led to increased food prices. These people understand that they have to work hard to get out of poverty. For me, helping them to understand how hard work and determination could help them get out of poverty is one of the biggest benefits so far.”

The initiative is planned in three phases, with the first focused on planting and harvesting vegetables such as cabbage, collard greens, peppers and peanuts. To ensure its long-term sustainability, 70 percent of the crops will be used to feed the volunteers and their families, while 30 percent will be harvested for sale to the immediate community of approximately 3,000 residents. Proceeds will be reinvested in the project to purchase additional seeds, equipment and, eventually, animals.

Phase two is planned to launch in September 2013, and will focus on raising and selling small livestock such as goats and pigs. The third phase will go into effect in September 2014 pending the success of the first two phases. Its aim is to establish a chicken farm to provide poultry and fresh eggs to the community.

In addition to wanting to meet the economic and nutritional needs of her people, Sister Kade established a set of pillars for PIAP volunteers to follow. The pillars — self-efficacy, transparency, leadership and hard work — promote education, honesty and a sense of purpose among the volunteers. With crime and risky behavior prevalent in the third-world country, as well as high rates of uneducated youth, Sister Kade wanted to emphasize positive behavior and create an outlet for education.

“Everything is just working out,” she said. “God is on our side 100 percent, that I am sure of.

From her home at Mercyhurst, Sister Kade communicates with project volunteers in Liberia on a regular basis, entrusting volunteers with all facets of the project, from tilling and irrigating the land to harvesting crops and purchasing supplies.

“This project gives them a sense of purpose,” she said. “When I talk to them, they say, ‘Oh, Sister Kade, you will be so proud of us.’ And I say, ‘No, you are going to be proud of yourselves.’”

Sister Kade credits the success of the project to the encouragement and help she has received from numerous individuals locally, among them the Sisters of Mercy; Mercyhurst faculty Laura Lewis, Ph.D., and Natasha Duncan, Ph.D.; and Erie resident Joe Fries, who has shared knowledge of farming with Sister Kade. She is also grateful to her support system in Liberia, particularly her team of volunteers.

Those interested in making a donation to further Sister Kade’s work in Liberia may contact her at wbrown32@lakers.mercyhurst.edu or at 814-824-3314; or Laura Lewis at llewis@mercyhurst.edu.
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