Meet Local Leaders

We seek out leaders who respond to the reproductive health needs of communities in crisis. They have been a force against all odds.

These are some of their stories.

Othello B. James, ChildrenSmile

Inspiring male involvement and addressing adolescent reproductive health needs in isolated areas.

Impassioned by his own plight as a refugee, Othello B. James founded Childrensmile Humanitarian Network (CHN), a Liberian NGO that serves communities affected by 15 years of civil war.

photo of othello james speakingOthello works in Rivercess County, a remote location where international organizations do not work due to a lack of transportation and infrastructure. The mission of his initiative is to empower young girls by providing them with the information they need to avoid early pregnancy, prevent HIV/AIDS and protect their reproductive health.

Othello has used creative strategies, like radio programs and male involvement to engage local communities in dialogue about important reproductive health issues. Othello has also begun a program to reduce young girls’ dependency on transactional sex by linking them to vocational training.

With grants and training for his committed staff, Othello’s initiative was able to expand these creative approaches and reach more people.

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Florence Davis, MERCI

Building a peaceful community through leadership and service.

photo of florence davis addressing an audienceFlorence knows the refugee experience. She was caught on the border between Liberia and Sierra Leone where rebel fighting broke out. Separated from her family in Liberia, she was in a refugee camp in Sierra Leone for a month. When she made it back to Liberia to do health work, another war broke out, and she collaborated with an international relief organization. Soon after though, that organization left, so MERCI, a local initiative, was left alone to manage the clinic without any support.

Florence has brought great leadership to MERCI. After working in refugee camps around the country, Florence is now a project manager. She says Astarte has enhanced her experience:

“It has helped me to travel and connect with other partners and see how they work—see their success stories, and attend workshops that have expanded my understanding. It has helped a whole lot.”

Florence’s glimpse of a bigger picture has not only advanced MERCI, but has inspired her family and community. Florence’s commitment to continue her education at night school has inspired her sister and daughter to pursue medicine. After establishing a World AIDS day event at a boarding school, Florence is sought out as an advisor on reproductive health issues. In fact, people remember her during the war as a servant of the community—treating war victims and delivering babies in her own house. “They still call me Doctor, Big Ma,” she says. “I have all the confidence of the people in the area. They name their children after me.”

Florence’s community commitment continues to grow. She is a big believer in women’s and adolescent empowerment. Her dream is to bring reproductive health information into church communities, especially to teenagers who are at risk of pregnancy. “If you go to school and you empower yourself, you prevent things. You can stand up on your own.” Florence has shown the essence of leadership: empowering others.

photo of othello james standing in a classroom

© Molly Fitzgerald

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