Liberia — Looking Back and Looking Ahead

How the rewards outweighed the risks

African children
(Image credit: Tammy Tibbetts)

I'm back in New York now, yet I still think about the little friends I made. I wonder if the orphans who asked for my e-mail address will save it and write to me someday when they do have computer access. I wonder what Ellen Johnson Sirleaf thinks about our upcoming election, and the possibility that we could have our first woman president too.

While I traveled, I read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. In her travels to Italy, India, and Indonesia, she summed up exactly what my trip to Liberia was all about: "You abandon your comforting and familiar habits with the hope (the mere hope!) that something greater will be offered you in return for what you've given up."

Of course, what you give up is nothing compared to what the people of any third world country go without. I gained a huge appreciation for everything from hot showers to my safety and opportunities as a woman in the US. Things that used to annoy me big time — like the buses that always seem to break down while I'm commuting on the NJ Turnpike — don't anymore. Instead, I'm just happy to travel from Point A to Point B without worrying about my safety. Liberian women still live in that fear, as evidenced by billboards all over the Monrovia roadways that protest rape and abuse.

I realized that "something greater" Elizabeth Gilbert hinted at was a message I couldn't get just from a series of interviews with MacDella in a cushy New York City apartment. I had to actually follow her from orphanage to orphanage, to see her stand up to Liberian adults who wanted to rip her off, to watch her strategize with the principal of a school. I gained so much depth to a story that proves style and substance balance each other out. With all the celebs who travel and adopt kids from Africa, obviously glamour and social conscience can go hand-in-hand…but I guess I needed to see it myself, through someone who isn't a tabloid target, to trust the sincerity of it.

I'm going to continue to tell MacDella's story, along with Genevieve, who releases her documentary in May. And we're going to help MacDella launch a fashion accessory that is handmade by Liberian women. The proceeds will support their incomes. MacDella is rather camera-shy and modest, despite her former modeling. She doesn't come to the media, so I try to bring the media — my world — to her. I'm not a publicist for MCF though. If I can convince you to support MCF, like by getting your best friends together to sponsor a child's education for $500/year, that's terrific. What I do consider myself is a publicist for the power of one woman to make a huge difference in the world. Whether it's a private person like MacDella who pursues her mission without fanfare, or a celebrity who very publicly steps out on a humanitarian platform — we have inspiration everywhere. Seize it!


MacDella Cooper Foundation

Liberia's Angel

My Liberia Travel Blog

Dedicated to women of power, purpose, and style, Marie Claire is committed to celebrating the richness and scope of women's lives. Reaching millions of women every month, Marie Claire is an internationally recognized destination for celebrity news, fashion trends, beauty recommendations, and renowned investigative packages.