It may seem difficult to do, but the executive director of the Peace and Justice Center last week linked poverty in Liberia to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and then to rural Vermont. Serena Chaudhury, gave a presentation entitled “POVERTY IS HELL: A trail of tears from Africa to America” in Castleton State College’s Old Chapel.
Chaudhury stated that race, gender, and class were the societal oppressors that led to poverty, and she began by summarizing the formation of Liberia.
Liberia was created in the 1830s when the United States made an effort to re-patriate former slaves to West Africa. The country of Liberia was modeled after the U.S., with the constitution being written at Harvard University.
But tensions arose between the former slaves, Americo-Liberians, and the indigenous population whom they oppressed. In 1980, indigenous Liberians led by Samuel Coe, orchestrated a coup and assumed power.
This coup disrupted the country’s stability and led to decades of civil war. As a result, poverty infected the country, affecting elderly, women, newborns, and young boys and girls who served as child soldiers. Rape was used as a tool of war, and mothers had to carry the unborn babies of their enemies. The lack of electrical infrastructure in the country also increased the degree of poverty in Liberia.
Finally, in 2004, a peace agreement was reached. Today Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is president of Liberia – the first female president in Africa – and Liberia is now stable.
From Liberia, Chaudhury brought us to the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
A similarity was drawn between the conditions in Liberia and the conditions in the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina. Most of the victims were black and had to flee their homes. While homeowners on the Gulf Coast were given trailers provided by FEMA, renters were given quarters on a donated Carnival cruise ship. Both situations resulted in crowded quarters, poor sanitation, and a strong military presence.
After discussing poverty in Liberia and the Gulf Coast, Chaudhury shifted her attention to rural Vermont. She discussed the financial problems affecting Vermont farmers due to economic and environmental hardships, and emphasized the need for livable wages in Vermont.
This is where the Peace and Justice Center is involved. It is located in Burlington, and is dedicated to promoting and preserving racial justice, economic justice, peace, and human rights and is responsible for Vermont livable wage campaign. Chaudhury ended the presentation by saying that “community is where the spark of justice is united”.
I felt that Chaudhury did a good job linking poverty in Liberia to poverty in the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In both cases, the victims were black and were displaced from their homes. Race, gender, and class affected the scale of poverty in both areas and it was revealed that poverty could be caused by both natural and man-made disasters. Although she did mention poverty in Vermont, I thought there was a lack of sufficient evidence linking economic hardship in Vermont to the disaster-related poverty of Liberia or the Gulf Coast.
If you would like more information on the Peace and Justice Center or would like to make a contribution, please visit their website at www.pjcvt.org.