By Massolian B.M. Fahnbulleh (YES 2011-2012, Liberia, hosted by AFS in Anchorage, AK)
Participating in the YES program was the best thing that has ever happened in my life. My life changed in so many positive ways, and my mind opened to identifying problems and finding solutions. My host family was amazing; they still support me to this day and help me with my university tuition. Their tireless investment in me inspires me to be active in making the world a better place.
I first felt the desire to be a change maker when I attended the Civic Education Workshop in Washington DC during my exchange year. The alumni workshop mentors who shared their stories and talked about issues they were addressing in their communities lit a fire in me to be an ambassador for change in Liberia.
Liberia is a beautiful country located in West Africa. It is the oldest country in Africa, with unique people, and it is the first country to boast a female as well as a former soccer star as presidents. But in my country, we face a lot of challenges, ranging from poor education, a high unemployment rate, sexual and gender-based violence, child abuse, and teenage pregnancy.
My personal passion lies in improving the lives of women and girls. In Liberia, with my own community being a no exception, young women and girls have many hurdles to acquiring a good education due to the lack of financial support. Without opportunities, many girls end up in relationships, especially with older men, as a means to financial security. Some girls get pregnant at a very young age and find themselves dropping out of school with no means of supporting their children or themselves. These circumstances led me to apply for a YES Alumni Grant to implement the Women’s Self Reliance Initiative (WOSRI).
WORSI is an initiative that focuses on empowerment of women between the ages of 14 and 25 in Liberia. The aim of WORSI is to promote gender equality by providing young women with vocational skills training, which they can apply to become more self-dependent. We believe that for women to be equal to their male counterparts, they need to be empowered to stand on their own and compete with them in academics.
The three-month program launched on October 2, 2018, and the training kicked off on October 6. The 20 beneficiaries studied in two sectors: pastry making and cosmetology. They learned a range of skills – like how to insert hair extensions into the skull of the dolls (Dommie), how to make different kinds of bread and cake, and mastered three different kinds of braids (corn roll, three finger natural braid with both natural hair and extensions, and two finger Senegalese twist, commonly known as bolo-bolo here in Liberia). They also learned how to apply artificial nails
I was very impressed with the students' high interest and excitement about the program. Students who did not know how to even move their fingers to braid a com roll are now braiding com rolls and other styles. Their eagerness to learn more keeps inspiring us to do more. My team and I are committed to sustaining this program by applying for more grants to train more groups, and we also plan to hold an online fundraiser to enable us to rent a space where our participants can go and put to practice what they’ve learned. We also have plans to broaden our selection of training offerings as time goes by. And because of the demand for the program, we have decided to increase the class size to 40 participants during the next phase.
I am very proud of my entire team for the levels of cooperation and commitment we displayed throughout the three-months project. At times we faced challenges, but we overcame them and successfully completed our project. In addition, the participants were very positive about the program! One student, Korto, expressed her gratitude by saying: “On behalf of my fellow students, I want to say a big thank you to our teachers for their patience and effort to pass along their knowledge to us, and also to the U.S. government for their support. We assure you that your efforts will not be in vain. I will make good use of this knowledge. Once again, thank you all very much.”
I extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to everyone who contributed either directly or indirectly towards the successful completion of this project. I give a very big thank you to the funder of this project, the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for sponsoring it through the YES Alumni Grants program. I am grateful for the YES program office here in Liberia, including both the YES Alumni Corps and iEARN-Liberia, my strong and energetic Women’s Self Reliance Initiative team, the administration of FAWE School of Excellence for donating the space for our activities, and finally to partners and friends from other youth organizations.