From left to right, Victor Taryor; German partners Siegried Ziegler and Rev. Frank Eibisch; Patrick Mantor, assistant administrator at Ganta United Methodist Hospital, and Victoria Tomah pose in front of the new Ganta Hospital in June 2012.
Shannon Trilli, UMCOR
By Julia Kayser*
Victoria Tomah grew up in Paynesville, Liberia. Her father worked as a domestic servant, and her mother sold fish at the main market in Jacob’s Town. As the oldest of five children, Victoria was expected to manage the home while her parents worked. She also helped her mother to sell fish after school. For a brief time she lived with her aunt and uncle while attending school at the Methodist Mission in Camphor, but because of the civil war she had to return to her family in Paynesville.
In 1999, Tomah finished high school and decided to become a nurse. She attended United Methodist University in Ganta. At nursing school, she remembered how her grandmother had died of hepatitis. “When I learned about how hepatitis could be prevented, I imagined how many other people have died of preventable and curable diseases of this sort,” Tomah writes. She developed a passion for health education and preventative medicine.
This passion was tested as soon as she graduated. “The Liberian civil war had entered Monrovia, causing mass displacement,” she says. Tomah was recruited by the government to provide health care for a group of displaced citizens living in a football stadium. She excelled even under these difficult circumstances. Since then, she has worked at two different hospitals and also for the Liberian government. In 2009, Tomah became the program coordinator for the Liberia Annual Conference health board.
Tomah’s role is to manage the Liberia Annual Conference’s health initiatives, which include projects supported by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and other United Methodist partners. She assesses communities’ need, requests funding from donors, and reports on the progress of various projects. Having her in this position is part of UMCOR’s Global Health sustainability strategy. “Investing in people like Victoria is investing in Africa,” says Shannon Trilli, director of UCMOR Global Health. “It ensures that the experience and skills needed to implement effective health programs are present in all of our efforts.”
One of the programs that Tomah has implemented is a three-year training for traditional birth attendants, in Camphor, funded by Trinity UMC, Colorado. “The goal of the project was to reduce maternal mortality by sharpening the skills of illiterate rural women who were performing delivery without formal training in the Camphor area,” Tomah writes. She says that role-play is an especially effective way to teach. Unschooled community members understand it perfectly, and often choose to replicate the role-play in their own neighborhoods.
So far, this project has built 28 hand pumps and 28 pit latrines in the area surrounding Camphor. A population of 12,000 now has access to safer water and better hygiene systems. Having attended the Camphor school for a short time, Tomah has a special connection there. “When I enter Camphor,” she writes, “I feel proud that… I am able to make an impact on the lives of the people in that community through education.”
Support Victoria Tomah’s work by donating to Liberia’s Advance #3020622, or to the general UMCOR Global Health fund, Advance #3021770.
*Julia Kayser is a writer and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.