"Every Liberian, we expect war any time, but we live on. We believe strongly that nothing will happen."
Ernestine was seven years old when a campaign of ethnic cleansing targeted the members of the Mandingo tribe. Her mother, who was not living with them, was Mandingo, so the neighbors reported that there was a Mandingo child living in the house. Ernestine, her father, and her uncles were then taken into custody.
Ernestine shared that she was held in a room where she could hear what was being done to her father. She commented that, even when the soldiers were not beating him, her father was shouting answers to their questions. She took this as his instructions for her—a means of telling her what to say. He kept saying, “No, her mother is not Mandingo.”
And when they came to torture Ernestine, the young girl was torn: her father had taught her not to lie, yet it seemed he was telling her to lie at this time. So she answered all of their questions with “I don’t know.” In the end, they were released. However, her father was brutally beaten during this torture and never quite recovered since.
As Ernestine told her story, the importance of her father in her life was very clear. She attributed his actions and even his death to his love and desire to protect her and give her every opportunity that he could. She used this connection with her father and his hopes for her to get through other very difficult experiences. His ongoing presence in her life motivated her to finish school, even after having a child at a very young age. She capitalized on every opportunity to learn and now works as a social worker helping women and girls who have experienced gender-based violence. A single mother, Ernestine shared her hopes for her own daughter—that she will never have to suffer the kinds of things that she did and that she will have more opportunity to do whatever she wants in the future.