Margibi County - Oretha Frazer, 28, was optimistic about her future when she moved in with her husband at the Edward Binyah Kesselly Military Barracks eight years ago.
Her husband, a promising and diligent soldier of the Armed Forces of Liberia, was determined to do what a man must do best: serve his nation and care for his family.
But the ignoble hands of death would soon snatch him unexpectedly, as always – leaving behind a sad tale.
Robbers had stabbed her husband one night while he was travelling on the highway to the Roberts International Airport.
He later died from his wounds. She had to abide by the rules of the military and move out of its premises.
It’s been little over a year since she vacated the army barracks and resettled with her children in a town about a mile away.
Now, the lives of Oretha and her three children – aged 10, seven and three - are compounded with uncertainties and frustrations.
“Since my husband died, I’m going through a lot of struggles,” she said, her eyes showing no tinge of courage.
Jobless and without any source of livelihood, she is challenged by raising her children alone.
“To even get school fees or food that war (is a challenge),” she said.
“My children cry behind me every morning because I don’t have means of providing food for them.”
On Tuesday, January 9, she heard news that wives of AFL soldiers were protesting in demand of their husbands’ “compulsory saving” benefits. Frazer joined the protest hoping her plight would be re-echoed to the authorities.
The anarchy was for a just cause, she would justify to reporters later.
“The AFL or defense (Ministry of Defense) supposed to give me US$3,000 as death benefit but I only received US$1,353,” said Oretha, mentioning the figures very thoughtfully.
She still remembers every detail of her husband’s death benefits and how the delays have caused her family of four many miserable days and nights without food and school fees for the three children.
It has been a go-come experience for her. The authorities are yet to inform her about the cause of all the delays, she said.
But according to the National Defense Act of 2008, “In the case of death of a member of the Armed Forces of Liberia in the course of lawful discharge of official duties, the spouse and minor (under age 18 years) children of that member shall receive a monthly pension.”
The law doesn’t state the amount and duration but said death benefits shall be determined by the Ministry of Defense with the advised of the Chief of Staff of the army, and approved by the legislature, with the provision that the total cost of such amount shall commensurate with the ability of the national budget to sustain the expense.
On Tuesday, as current soldiers’ wives protested, it began a chance that would pave the way for Oretha to claim the rest of her husband’s benefits.
She is also requesting the “compulsory savings” all the other soldiers’ wives are demanding.
She helped set up roadblocks on the highway leading to Liberia’s main international airport— Roberts International Airport (RIA).
It was a chaotic scene for over three hours on Tuesday that obstructed the flow of traffic.
The wives of the soldiers claimed they were told by their husbands that US$20 is deducted every month from their salaries as “compulsory savings”.
Some of these officers have served the military for more than eight, nine or 10 years and now that the curtains are falling on the current administration, they are requesting their savings.
The leader of the aggrieved wives of the soldiers, who refused to mention her name for fear of reprisal against her husband, said authorities at the barracks have hinted that the savings were used to cater to the Liberian contingent sent to Mali on a peace keeping mission.
“The General (Chief of Staff) said ‘We cannot assured that this money would be shared because it was not intended for sharing’ and that was when the women became protesting,” she said.
“We need this money so dearly, to our dire need because we have poor electricity in this fence (barrack), the living condition is very deplorable and our children have to go out to another school after junior high.”
The Ministry of Defense and the head of the military are yet to respond to these allegations.
There are also disagreements over the number of years the deductions were made from the soldiers’ salaries.
While the wives of the AFL soldiers are claiming the deduction scheme has been going on for the past 10 years, they also alleged that authorities at the Defense Ministry have told them it started in 2009.
The army command has also told the wives the ‘compulsory savings’ would be given as part of their husbands’ death benefits. And the women rejected the suggestion.
However, Army Chief of Staff, Major Gen. Daniel Ziankahn, promised that the issue would be settled through the “right channel” on Friday, January 12.
Many of the aggrieved women are pointing to Oretha’s experience - how she has struggled to get the full sum of her husband’s death benefits.
Meanwhile, Oretha must maneuver and continue fetching food for her kids.
“Since this morning I have not put pot on fire (cooked food) for my children and I don’t even have money to buy the first food,” she said.