On the Road to Sustainability, In Liberia

by Julie Thiery

Last month, I spent two weeks in rural Liberia with the The Niapele Project, a nonprofit organization focused on sustainably improving the lives of impoverished children. 

Rice farmer in Mawah, Liberia. (Photos: Julie Thiery)

I spent most of my time outside of Monrovia, in the town of Handii, in what is known as Lower Bong County. I focused much of my energy engaging with China Union, an iron-ore company located in Bong Mines that recently signed a $2.8 billion contract with the Liberian government. In exchange for mineral rights, China Union promised to create local jobs and help build local infrastructure, schools and hospitals.

Aware of the power the company leverages, The Niapele Project organized an event on July 27thto showcase its work helping local rice farmers increase crop yield and sell more rice in the local community.

China Union representatives seemed to be open to helping this initiative, as an alternative to importing rice from abroad. (They also agreed to buy local seafood for the company cafeteria). But the meeting wasn’t all business.

The day ended in a riveting football match between that pitted The Niapele Project and China Union members on one team against clan elders on the other. The elders kicked ass, 3-0. (A second match was played between the elders and the youth group. The elders – not so old, as it turns out – won again.)

All parties in the community recognized it was a great way to bring everyone together. Proving yet again that the football – the European kind, not the American kind – is one path to eventual world peace.

The elders won both games. They weren’t so old after all.


The women of the bread-baking collective.

In my time there I was also fascinated by the women in Handii, who voiced an interest in creating a breadmaking business, and I was to help make that dough rise – pun fully intended.

Thus, the wife of the Lower Bongo County’s head of development – a woman named Ma Tenneh, who also happened to be my Liberian host mother – and I went to Monrovia to buy tinware and ingredients that the local women would need to begin their enterprise.

Their company, Wilkema (love or unity in Kpelle, the local language), was born as more then fifty women took to their new stoves and made their bread to showcase on the festivities that day. Awesome!

My time in Liberia was invaluable and precious.

So much still needs to be done to build the country up again but it was invigorating to be with The Niapele Project, a 501c3 registered non-profit organization that is based in the United States, that understands that the best gift to impoverished Liberians is to provide tools to allow them to build a sustainable community & economy, from which so much else that is good also follows.

This starts with children – aka the future of the community – being properly and consistently fed and educated, based on programs created and managed by community itself.

Fresh, local and delicous.

Interested in knowing more (or even volunteering one day)? Check out The Niapele Project or send me a line by clicking on my name at the top of this post.

Happy to connect anyone inspired to volunteer.


Julie (aka Bike Attack) Thiery joined the June 2012 Roadmonkey expedition to Vietnam, cycling 300km through the Central Highlands and building a house for a homeless mother & daughter in the Mekong Delta.






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