Liberia’s Poor Find Solace In Social Cash Transfer, Spending Money Wisely
Deputy Minister Jallah addresses beneficiaries of the pilot Social Cash Transfer program in Sass Town
Photo Credit: Sidiki Trawally
By Sidiki Trawally
The anti-poverty scheme known as Social Cash Transfer is transforming lives in Liberia. The Liberian Government initiated pilot program provides cash that helps school the children, buy food and clothing for the ultra poor households in Bomi County which according to recent statistics in the poverty indicators is Liberia’s poorest county. This initiative coordinated through a partnership between the government of Liberia and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), seeks to alleviate the suffering of the country’s poorest.
Almost all of the families monitored have complied with the objectives of the pilot program. They are using the money for the children’s basic needs such as food, education and health. In fact, for most part, majority are using the money for their children’s education and health, while some are using the money to construct conducive dwelling places. Some beneficiaries interviewed Friday say the money they receive is helping them enormously to ease the burden of sending their children to school.
For instance, the pilot program in Bomi has seen beneficiaries building good homes, using local tools. The program has also seen households investing in livestock like chickens and goats. The extremely poor households that are benefiting from the pilot social cash transfer program are also spending their money cleverly on food and on their children’s basic needs.
Varnie Quaye is 81yr old and is a beneficiary. He walked miles to Sasstown Friday and waited patiently for his turn to receive his money. When called, Varnie walked up to the desk, his thumb printed followed by an Eco Bank agent giving him his money. His face glowed with smile as he walked out of the school building in Sasstown. Varnie is among thousands of ultra poor and labor constrained Liberians who are using their money wisely.
Prior to the launching of the cash assistance scheme, Varnie said he lived in a hut that was deplorable. Unlike other parents with children, Varnie has no child or grand kid of his own to assist him. He fetches food and water for himself. With the Social Cash money, he has constructed a new hut in which he currently resides. He now uses his money to get good nutrition, makes little farm and sells small groceries, which he said keeps him busy.
Like Varnie, most beneficiaries are also showing positive improvements in their lives. Their children not only showing up for school, they have also become more active in class. The scheme is helping to break a circle of poverty for the beneficiaries, who are urged by the Government to use the money wisely in order to make their children become productive citizens.
Kema Kiadi, in her 70’s says she uses her money to school her grand children and provide food for them. She is from the Kanga village and was among those who received their monthly cash allowance that day. She is grateful for the Social Cash Transfer program.
Teneh Boima, 31 was also in the audience with her two-year old daughter. She uses her money to feed her four children including her infant daughter and make small farm. “I use the money to send my three children to school. This is really helping me and I pray for God to bless the Government…”
Addressing a group of beneficiaries in Sasstown Friday, Deputy Planning and Economic Affairs Minister James Dorbor Jallah called on parents to take responsibility for their young ones in making sure they are properly cared for. “We will make sure this program succeed, but you have to play your part too by doing the things we expect you to do,” he said.
Minister Jallah asserted that without the cash assistance, many children in the poorest families would not have access to education and health care. He said if current beneficiaries continue to use their money wisely, Government will prolong the program to help more Liberians in such condition across the country. The Minister emphasized: “We started this program with you, but we want you to continue to make us proud by using the money the right way. Send your children to school; feed them well and make sure they get proper medical care.”
He also stated that those families that were previously listed to benefit, but were later dropped from the list because they did not meet the criteria for eligibility, should not worry. “We are designing other programs for you to get some help from the government,” he assured. Minister Jallah added, “If there are people who have been taken out, we want you to bear with us. This pilot program is for people who can’t work, but if you are strong and able to work and are ultra poor, we have something coming for you too. We will help you get some assistance like farming tools and/or other inputs to make your farms.”
For the UNICEF Boss in Liberia, Isabel Crowley, the children’s education is very important to the really poor people. She reiterated that beneficiaries should use the money to improve their lives. During a conversation with some beneficiaries in Sasstown, Isabel declared that unless they continue to use their money for the intended purposes, the cash transfer program would not continue.
Contrary to the deep-rooted prejudices of many in the developed world, poor people use extra money wisely. Half goes on more and better food, which improves health and nutrition, and is particularly important for the development of young children. Cash transfers are proving to be a double success, reducing immediate hunger and malnutrition, while also stimulating local economic growth. Liberia is on that path to reducing poverty, at least this time in the country’s poorest community.
Poverty is painful! People who live in poverty often develop values, skills, and attitudes, which are very different from those of other classes. Therefore, recognizing the pressing need to improve the lives of its citizens who are ultra poor, the Government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, with support from UNICEF and others, launched a two-year pilot Social Cash Transfer program to help reduce poverty, hunger and starvation in extremely poor and labor constrained households currently living in the pilot area, and for children to realize their basic rights to education, health and nutrition.
The Bomi project is part of Government’s social protection program for its citizens. The project has been constituted to promote and protect the livelihoods and welfare of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the country. Under the pilot phase of the two-year project, a household of one person will receive USD10/month, a household of two persons will receive USD15/month, a household of three persons will receive USD20/month, and a household of four or more persons will receive USD25/month. For each child enrolled in primary school, a bonus of USD2 will be added and USD4 will be added for each child enrolled in secondary school.