By Daniel Valai (YES 2017-2018, Liberia, placed by IRIS in Altoona, IA)
My YES year in Iowa was full of sports, volunteering, and lots of new activities and experiences that my host family, the Geigers, introduced me to. The education my exchange year gave me included leadership skills and a passion for volunteerism. It taught me to ask not what my country can do for me, but what I can do for my country.
Liberia’s civil war has had a lasting negative effect on many aspects of society, including education. I consider education to be of the utmost importance for the growth and development of any nation as youth are our future. In Liberia, corruption in the educational system is a real barrier to youth and their dreams. A system of “cash for grades” has made its way into many academic institutions.
As a current student at the United Methodist University of Liberia, I have personally been negatively affected by educators’ attempts to extort money for higher grades. It was based on these experiences that my team and I started an academic integrity initiative. We applied for and received a YES Alumni Grant in 2021 for Restoring Academic Integrity. The project was a success, so we apply to conduct a second edition in 2022.
Similar to the first round, the second phase of Restoring Academic Integrity aimed to raise awareness about academic malpractice and corruption in schools through public engagement, social media, radio, and sessions with students in Bomi and Grand Cape Mount counties. The project also established integrity clubs at eight high schools, where we installed integrity boxes so students can anonymously report instances of academic malpractice. The project concluded with a street campaign to raise public awareness, through which students carried banners and posters with anti-corruption messages.
To offer continued support to the members of the integrity clubs, we have created an online forum to stay connected and provide advice and mentorship. We encourage the students to continue spreading the message to educate and motivate other students get involved in fighting for integrity. The integrity clubs plan to organize their own programs, like radio discussions and awareness initiatives.
I’d love to conclude by extending my gratitude to the YES program’s funder: the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. I would also like to thank my host family, the Geigers; iEARN-Liberia; IRIS; all the supportive school administrators, teachers, and students; project volunteers; our partner organization, Partners for Education; the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia; and the YES alumni community in Liberia.