This is the first An Exclusive of 2017. We begin the year with Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation’s own Julie Taitt. Julie served on the original Board of Directors of the organization and for the past four years, has served as an Advisor on the Advisory Council of GWPF. She recently visited parts of Africa, including Liberia. In this Exclusive, Julie shares her views on the state of affairs of Liberia and FGM/C in that country.
GWPF: It was your first trip to Liberia, but was it your first trip to the continent of Africa?
Julie Taitt: No. I previously visited South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, and Ethiopia.
GWPF: If so, as an African American woman, how did you feel being on African soil?
Julie Taitt: I felt a sense of homeland. This is the land of my ancestors – the place of my roots. This gives me a sense of great pride. However, there are many parts of Africa that are still experiencing great challenges in 2017. It’s difficult to know the wealth and prosperity of America and then see the suffering, poverty, and lack in some African countries.
GWPF: There is a school named after you in Liberia. How did a school in that country get named after Julie Taitt?
Julie Taitt: Through affiliations with the Pastor of the Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Liberia – Pastor Simon Dapaye. My husband and I had the privilege of watching Pastor Simon and his wife tirelessly expand their ministry despite many challenges –for example, the Ebola crisis. When the Lord allowed Pastor Simon to start a school, he named it after us in honor of all the seeds we had sown into the ministry during the years. Not just financial seeds, but also seeds of prayer, and encouragement. Pastor Simon combined my name and my husband’s name to form the acronym JET. A JET goes fast, a JET goes high, and a JET can climb above the clouds to reach great heights. This is what he wants for the children in that school. He wants them to feel that they have limitless possibilities. They can reach the stars. The school is in Yamah Town in Fendell, a place on the outskirts of Monrovia. Right now the school teaches Kindergarten through the 6th grade. Pastor Simon is concerned about not having continuing education for the children after 6th grade, which is why he has already made a down payment on a parcel of land a few miles away to build a high school which will continue through 12th grade. He also wants to build a health clinic, a community center, and other buildings on the complex. I ask that others would please pray that the Lord will bring all the resources necessary to accomplish this awesome vision.
GWPF: During your visit to Liberia, you also visited the school which Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation has supported in the past. Tell us about your visit to the Hope Academy, located in Marshall, Liberia.
Julie Taitt: The Hope Academy is part of a larger organization called Hope2Liberia. The school is on a campus that contains several buildings. There is a water purification building, and the home of the principal (which also houses a female/male dormitory for visiting educators). The main building is the school which contains approximately 8 active classrooms with a large open center that can be used for sports activities. There are approximately 150 students from grades K-3. The school complex is adjacent to a river. A foot bridge is under construction to allow passage over the river. On the other side of the river is land staked off for future construction and expansion of the school complex. The grounds are well maintained. The staff is professional and enthusiastic. I went to every classroom and greeted the students and teachers. I let them know that they are beautiful, they can do great things, and that there are many people who love them and believe in their success. I thanked all of the teachers for their dedication, and commitment to training the future generations. I met with the Assistant Principal about the future of the school and their future sounds bright but they also need financial support and encouragement to accomplish all of their plans.
GWPF: Did you get to interact with many Liberian women while there?
Julie Taitt: Yes, through engagements sponsored by the American Embassy, through doing commerce, and through embassy personnel. I met Liberian women business owners, foundation directors, single mothers, and married couples. I met women at the docks scaling fish as they literally came off the fishermen’s boats. I met women in the farmers’ market. I met women at church. I met women and made it a point to talk to them as much as they were willing to listen.
GWPF: Did you discuss the practice of FGM/C with any of them? Do you think they want to see FGM/C eradicated or the continuation of the practice?
Julie Taitt: Yes, I did. The majority of the women want it to end. They are hopeful that it will end because of the initial trauma and the ongoing difficulties women face because of it. Many Liberian women are hopeful because Liberian men are now quietly rejecting women who have been circumcised, in favor of women who have not been circumcised. There were still a small group of women I talked to who felt that it is culture, so therefore there was nothing that could be done to stop it.
GWPF: This is encouraging news, in spite of the fact that there are no laws against the practice of FGM/C in that country. What impact did Liberia have on you?
Julie Taitt: I was saddened by the lack of infrastructure which impacts all the components of society (Government, health care, schooling, business development, etc.) Despite this I was left with a sense of great hope because of the ideas and the zeal of the young people. There is also a sense of God’s presence there because many of the people have a religious/scriptural emphasis in their business names: By His Stripes We Are Healed Clinic, Mountain of Fire Taxi Service, Successful Debbie’s Sewing Service, Glory to God Restaurant, God is Faithful Day Care, etc.).
GWPF: That is really interesting. What future plans, if any do you have for that country?
Julie Taitt: I plan on going back to support for both the Hope Academy and the Julie E. Taitt Evangelical Lutheran School (JET). I plan to travel to Liberia again in 2017.
GWPF: That is commendable, Julie. If you were given an opportunity to make changes to that West African country. What are the top 5 changes you would make?
Julie Taitt: The roads first; then electricity nationwide; clean water is a must; a far better school system and lastly, health care for all. Roads would be my first priority because it takes a long time for people to travel throughout the country. This means that people are limited to conduct business, travel to health care facilities, bring in equipment to do construction, develop mass transportation (i.e. buses). Next, I would improve the access to electricity and the consistency and stability of the electricity. Most people still do not have electricity in their homes and businesses so many have resorted to the use of private generators. Those that do have electricity experience frequent periods of power outages. Next, I would increase the availability and access to clean water. Finding clean water and carrying it is still a burden for women there. Also, the lack of clean water is the cause of many illnesses. Next, I would standardize the school system and make it publicly available. Although there is a small public school system in Liberia, it is underfunded. This has driven many to develop church schools, private schools, and community schools. And lastly, I would improve the health care system. The primary hospital in the capital city of Monrovia had a reputation of being a premiere facility in West Africa before the civil war. Now, it is shunned by many with whom I spoke because of the current poor condition. Most people do self-diagnosis, or use small community health clinics, which are very expensive, and not staffed by certified health professionals. Connected to this, would be expanding the access to pharmaceuticals (both prescription and over the counter).
GWPF: Wow that is an excellent plan you just laid out. Liberia needs someone like you to be their President. Julie, you served on the original Board of Directors of Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation, and now you serve in an advisory capacity to the Board. Do you believe that the practice of FGM/C will be eliminated by the year 2030?
Julie Taitt: Hearts and Minds are difficult to change. Will it be greatly reduced – I believe yes. Totally eradicated worldwide – I am not sure but I am hopeful.
GWPF: Greatly reduced is a step forward but we must remain hopeful. What advice do you have for women reading this Exclusive?
Julie Taitt: Get busy. Get involved. Get active in providing your support to eradicate FGM/C and other activities that will improve the lives of women and girls. You may never become famous or wealthy but one man and one woman can gently shake the world.
GWPF: Where do you see Julie Taitt in 10 years?
Julie Taitt: I believe I will be a published author of a couple of books. I will be a world traveler spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. I also see myself expanding my current efforts to improve the lives of women and girls around the world. God has great plans for me because I am a willing vessel and I am not afraid to be his hands of love to the hurting and hopeless. Although I have experienced many, many blessings I know that the best is yet to come for me and for Global Woman P.E.A.C.E., and I am excited about that. Thank you for allowing me to share my story.
All photographs in this article were provided by Julie Taitt from her visit to Liberia.