By Edwin Konneh (YES 2019-2020, Liberia, placed by YFU USA in Jacksonville, IL) and Joseph Kwalah (YES 2019-2020, Liberia, placed by CIEE in Sherman, TX)
We are Edwin and Joseph — two deaf YES alumni and students at Oscar Romero School for the Deaf in Tubmanburg, Liberia. We were among the nine students that represented Liberia on the YES program in 2019-2020. We had a wonderful time during our year in the U.S., despite the difficulties related to COVID-19 during our YES year. We learned a lot. Not just what we learned at school; we also learned about American culture, people, food, and life. Our exchange year made us stronger and more adaptable.
We decided to apply for a Projects for All follow-on workshop grant because of important needs of Liberian youth that needed to be addressed. The Liberian economy faces many challenges, and our youth have no practical vocational skills and few jobs. Deaf youth are suffering even more than the hearing population. At the same time, Liberian youth are very resilient and motivated to learn and succeed. Deaf youth are very friendly, and they want to work and earn their own money. But the deaf are often excluded due to communication barriers and prejudices. With our P4A grant project, we aimed to address this through an inclusive skills training.
Our project consisted of training 25 hearing students from five schools in Tubmanburg and 25 deaf students from our school in soap-making and baking. In April 2021, participants learned how to make soap. In May, they learned how to bake and decorate cakes. At the beginning of each training day, we, the deaf organizers, spoke to the students about communication and friendship between the deaf and the hearing.
Our 50 participants greatly benefitted from this project because young people need to have skills to earn money and take care of themselves and their families. Also, as the hearing and deaf participants were learning together, this experience helped break barriers in our community. The participants were very grateful for the project and the YES program. They had faith that what they learned will help them provide for themselves and to stay out of trouble.
Since the training, we (Joseph and Edwin) have baked cakes every Saturday to sell to the community. These funds helped us to save money for our school expenses.
We want to wholeheartedly thank the YES program and the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. We also want to thank our recruiting organization, iEARN, and MIUSA, who supported us throughout our exchange year and afterward. Finally, we are thankful to Oscar Romero School for the Deaf, which helped us organize the project and provided interpreters and a venue.