Nearly every morning in the yard beside her small thatched mud house, Yorh Brown starts a low-burning fire. She blends ingredients over just the right heat, then pours the thick mixture into a wide, shallow cooling pan. As her creation hardens, she uses a handmade wire inlay to cut it into rectangles, each about the size of a deck of cards.
“People say I make really good soap,” Brown says.
As she loads fragrant, pale green bars into a metal bowl and heads for her village’s small market, she smiles and adds, “I think it’s true.”
On its face, Brown’s soap business, which she started in a remote community in Nimba County, may not seem like part of an international effort to save Liberia’s forests. Until you ask what Brown and her neighbors used to do to earn a living.
“We were cutting the trees all the time to grow rice,” Brown explains. “We were hunting. We were always in the forests. We burned them.”
At the market, her friends are selling cooking oil, spices and other items they bought in bulk in the nearest big town to resell here for a profit. Like Brown, they started their businesses after joining WORTH, a global Pact program that reduces poverty and empowers women through village banking and entrepreneurship.
In Liberia, Pact is implementing WORTH with funding from USAID as part of the FIFES project, or Forest Incomes for Environmental Sustainability, which is working to preserve the West African nation’s trees and biodiversity. Through WORTH, Liberian forest communities that once survived by hunting and clearing land instead are developing alternative livelihoods that don’t destroy forests.
Photo taken in Feb. 2017.