Beauty from Charcoal

In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re highlighting Theresa Musema Harris, one of the women of Amani Liberia. 

Theresa remembers asking herself, “Why did I come all the way to Yekepa with my children only to suffer myself?” Theresa is a mother of three children. She and her husband live in Yekepa, where her husband attends a local university.

While her husband is in school, Theresa is responsible for bringing in a little income to support the family. She used to spend her days selling charcoal from the front porch of her house. Each bag of charcoal sold for 5 Liberian Dollars (equivalent to 7 cents US). On a good day, Theresa would bring in as much as 20 LD. With her hands covered in charcoal, and black soot under her nails from dividing the larger bag of charcoal into smaller bags, she would often ask herself, “Is this all that will come of my life?”

Today, Theresa works at Amani Liberia. When asked how her life has changed since she started working at Amani, her face lights up. She says, “I’ve had many firsts at Amani: I have learned a skill that I never knew before. I am earning money that I never had before. I am sharing in a group setting in ways which I have never done before.” Theresa shared that her pay in December carried her through Christmas. With a smile on her face she said, “I was able to take the children to town to buy Christmas gifts, and I was even able to buy a bag of rice for the Christmas celebrations!”

Theresa’s dream is to one day go to university. She said, “I want to learn something for my children tomorrow.” She is one of few women in her country fortunate enough to have finished high school. Only one in every ten women in Liberia receives a high school diploma.


Like every woman in Liberia, Theresa faced pressure to give in to the vices of society, where many women make the painful choice to prostitute themselves due to the harsh economic situation. When Theresa was just 14 she was pressured by her stepfather to go out and earn her own food money. He said that she was now mature and should leave the home. Had she yielded, she knows what would have become of her life: “No education, children born out of wedlock, and a damaged future, leaving me with no hope.” Theresa overcame all odds and stubbornly refused to go the way of most of her peers. When thinking back on that time, all Theresa can say is, “God, thank you!” It was so difficult and yet she never yielded to the pressure.


The difficult experiences Theresa had growing up have given her a special appreciation for the book of Proverbs. The many verses about mothers and the importance of training children are close to her heart. She talks to her own daughter often about going the right way. The youth of Liberia often say, “These are our days; we have to do what pleases us.” Theresa believes if you train the child in Truth when she is young, she will not go the way of the youth.

When Theresa was asked what she would tell other women on International Women’s Day she said, “If you find life is difficult don’t give up. Stay focused on your work, even if it is something small like selling charcoal. Put yourself into it, and God will bless it.” 


In honor of International Women’s Day, Amani is contributing 15% of all online sales through Sunday, March 11th to the Elizabeth Sumwabe Scholarship Fund. This scholarship is a special education support initiative for women at Amani. Visit our Online Shop to make a purchase & invest in the future of Amani women. 


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