Life in Liberia: why we offer more than a meal

Gerry Naughton recently joined Mary’s Meals as our communications officer for Liberia. In his first blog from the country, he explains why sharing food in Liberia means more than just a meal.

Gerry Naughton
Gerry Naughton
Communications officer, Liberia

Back to all stories | Posted on 24 May 2016 in Life in Liberia

I am the new communications officer for Mary’s Meals in Liberia and my name is Gerry Naughton, although that’s not how it’s always been.

I was baptised Gerard, but my mother called me Gerry after her brother. Gerry was a tough name to have in the 1970’s. It was easy to mock me with “Gerry Babies”, “Gerry Tots”, “Gerry and Custard” and don’t forget the band “Mungo Gerry” and their hit “In the Summertime.” I never will.

But I bore the name proudly until the day I started school in September 1970, when I found out my name was actually “Gerard”.

As I grew up, my brothers and local pals began to call me Ged and it’s barely possible to muck that up, although it is the Danish word for “goat”.

So I was Ged with friends, and Gerard with bureaucrats and Gerry with my mam, dad and a few family members. I thought that was how I would be known for the rest of my life until I volunteered as a youth worker in Liberia in 1992 with the Salesians of Don Bosco. They all knew me through my parents, so I became known as Gerry here, or more accurately “Brother Gerry”. Everyone has to have a title.

Over the years since 1992, I have visited Liberia eight more times; and – including coming back in April 2016 to work as communications officer for Mary’s Meals – this is my tenth visit in total.

Between finding out I’d been offered the communications officer role at Mary’s Meals and arriving in Liberia, I had two breakfasts, three lunches and two evening meals to celebrate with friends and family. Then when my flight was delayed by four days, I had one more of each.

Eating is much more than just what you do to stay alive. It’s about interacting with other people, demonstrating your affection and sharing a sense of togetherness.

After just two days in Liberia, I had eaten potato greens and cassava leaf with my new colleagues. Don’t ask me to describe how to cook these dishes. All I can say is that basically both consist of leaf vegetables, cut finely and cooked with fish and chicken, in the presence of oil and hot pepper.

Mary’s Meals has just extended its school feeding programme in Liberia to include a further 6,000 school children in the country’s central Bong County. Like the feeding that already exists in four counties, it’s gone down extremely well (pun intended).

But one of the most popular things has been that, as far as possible, the feeding includes rice grown in Liberia, known as “country rice”. Not only is it feeding the kids, giving them energy to concentrate on their lessons, and taking the strain of finding food off their families, but the project is actually demonstrating solidarity, pride and a sense of national unity.

My mother was a great cook. She died of cancer in 2010 at the age of 70, but would have loved the fact that I have got this job with Mary’s Meals and that I am back in a country I know well, working with people I care about and doing a job that matters.

Her name – to bring the story full circle – was Mary.

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