By Emmanuel G. Godfrey (YES 2015-2016, Liberia, hosted by AFS in Cumberland, ME)
My name is Emmanuel Geekor Godfrey, a YES alumnus from Liberia hosted in Cumberland, Maine by the deDoes-Mendehlsons, a beautiful family who warmly welcomed me into their home and treated me as a member of their family. I attended Greely High School, just a five-minute walk from where I lived. During my exchange year, I met many new people who helped expand my knowledge of the world.
The YES program shaped me into a very different young man than I was prior to my arrival. As a YES alumnus, I make it my responsibility to give back to my community. I currently serve as the General Secretary for the YES Alumni Association of Liberia. As an active alumnus, I have enjoyed many opportunities to work with diverse groups of people, such as when serving as an Alumni Assistant at the 2017 YES ESL summer camp in Thies, Senegal and as a Junior Facilitator for the 2018 Workshop for Youth Leaders in English Teaching (WYLET) in Washington, DC. In a nutshell, I would say that my participation on the YES program was the “Big Bang” of my life.
I am currently a volunteer teacher at the Voice of America Academy Public School in the Voice of America community, an underprivileged neighborhood of approximately 3,000. Although underprivileged, its community members are united and motivated to work together towards a common good. But life in this community can be hard. Students quit school to live by themselves because their parents cannot afford to support them. Others quit school because they have children at a very young age. Teens in this community are restless. They are depressed and frustrated because they believe there is no way out of the poverty in which they live.
Today’s youths will be the leaders, parents, lawyers, teachers, and doctors of tomorrow. Who among the youths will lead Liberia a few years from now? Will those leaders come from only among the privileged?
Plagued by that question, I took it on as my passion and responsibility to inspire and encourage the uninspired. I received a YES Alumni Grant to design and implement the project “Restoring the Educational Hope.” The aim of this project was to inspire and encourage disadvantaged youth to actively prevent teenage pregnancy and value education for a brighter future.
The 100 participants of Restoring the Educational Hope were underprivileged youths, ages 13 to 19, who either lost one or both parents in the civil war or the recent Ebola virus outbreak, who are physically or financially disabled, or who have been denied access to education by being forced into early marriages. Some are already parents, and others are already supporting themselves.
To educate the participants on the consequences of teenage pregnancy, we invited health and educational speakers who discussed the dangers and disadvantages of teenage child bearing and parenting. For sessions about gender and issues of sexuality, participants were divided by gender so that each group could express themselves openly. The program also included sessions on identifying and solving problems that participants regularly face, as well as sharing educational opportunities and the value of prioritizing one’s education.
One participant, who is a mother, said, “When I found out I was going to have a baby, I thought it was the end of my future, but the program helped me see that a mistake can be corrected if we try.”
A male participant said, “I was a good student until my girlfriend got pregnant. I need to care for her and earn more, so I thought I could not continue school because I am failing my classes. I am in the 12th grade now, and the program has inspired me not to stop here, but to continue.”
Another female participant, who does not yet have children, said, “I love children, and when I see my friends with babies, I used to want to be like them. But, now, after hearing from other participants, I no longer want that path.”
The principal goal of the project was to instill in disadvantaged youths the desire to learn and transform their lives and communities for the better. We plan to continue the project and extend it to as many disadvantaged communities in Liberia as we can. We also plan to visit the schools our alumni attend to see how they are doing and what help they need to keep their hopes alive. Helping people is my passion, and I long to see everyone excelling. Success in not about how much you earn, but about how many lives you transform!
This program would not have succeeded without the support of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program, iEARN-Liberia, VOA Academy administration and community, and my team members Korvah M. Fromayan, Koiwu Gboluma, Henry Gboluma, Lewretha Toah, Varney M. Foboi, Jackson Siapha, and Mahmound Dunor (Principal of VOA Academy). I dearly appreciate you all for helping to make this project a success. If we work together, we will help make the world a great place to be.