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Forget Brunch. Liberians Crown 'Mothers Of The Year'

Maipo Glay was crowned Mother of the Year for 2015-2016 at her church in Monrovia, Liberia. She's raising three orphans along with her own biological child.
Jason Beaubien
Maipo Glay was crowned Mother of the Year for 2015-2016 at her church in Monrovia, Liberia. She's raising three orphans along with her own biological child.

It was swelteringly hot inside the Refuge United Methodist Church in the Sinkor section of Monrovia as Maipo Glay was given a plastic tiara, a blue sash and the title of "Mother of the Year."

The entire 3 1/2-hour service was dedicated to the mothers of the congregation. "The powerful mothers!" the Rev. Allen Paye yells through a crackling sound system.

Under a corrugated metal roof, members of the choir are dancing from foot to foot, working themselves into a sweaty frenzy.

Welcome to Mother's Day Mass in Liberia.

Paye says the Mother of the Year is a tradition at Christian churches across the country: "In the streets of Monrovia, you'll see people wearing white from different denominations. Those are the mothers of the year."

His church holds Mass inside an elementary school. There's no dais, no altar, no icons of Jesus Christ on the walls. There aren't even pews. The congregation of roughly 100 people sits on plastic chairs and wooden school benches.

When it's time to present the crown, parishioners cluster around Glay, pinning ribbons, corsages and small-denomination banknotes to her dress.

"All of this is about honor," Paye says of the ceremony.

"We don't honor people because they have money. We don't honor them because they're big shots."

The church selects its Mother of the Year from a small group of women who've been singled out for strong moral character and family values, as well as involvement with the parish.

Glay, 42, is married with one biological child and is also raising three orphans. She's a regular church volunteer and the longtime treasurer.

"I am overjoyed. I am over-happy," Glay says after the service, the front of her dress adorned with ribbons, bows and silk flowers. "I really appreciated what happened today. And I'm really grateful to God for this honor."

As Mother of the Year for the church, she'll lead the women's organization for the parish.

"We look after the children in the church, guiding our young women who are coming up," she says. "We teach them to pray and encourage them in the Christian faith."

Glay's coronation comes just one day after Liberia was officially declared Ebola-free. Paye says this milestone is a huge relief. Now parishioners can embrace each other once again. Even last week, he says, people wouldn't have hugged Glay and pinned flowers on her.

"In the Ebola situation, when we used to honor people, we just call you up front. You stand there. Nobody touch you," Paye says. "We see the declaration [of Ebola-free status] as very important because you see people were hugging. So we think it's a very good thing for Liberia and want to give glory to Jesus Christ for all the different works that God did to keep us safe from this deadly disease."

Meanwhile, Maipo Glay, wearing her shiny plastic tiara, joked that she might never give up the crown. "I could be Mother of the Year for life!" she beamed.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.