By Emmanuel G. Godfrey (YES 2015-2016, Liberia, hosted by AFS-USA in Cumberland, ME)
My name is Emmanuel Geekor Godfrey, an alumnus of the YES program placed in Cumberland, Maine with the deDoes-Mendehlson family. The YES program has been a dream come true for me. It has exposed me to a lot of opportunities and broadened my mind for the better. Thanks to the YES program, I am now able to turn problems into opportunities.
Since I returned home in 2016, I have been actively involved in YES alumni activities. I served as a volunteer General Secretary for Liberia’s YES alumni corps for two years, as an Alumni Assistant at the 2017 YES English Camp in Senegal, and as an Alumni Assistant at the 2018 Workshop for Youth Leaders in English Teaching (WYLET) in Washington, D.C. Also, I am one of the founders and leaders of the Workshop for Effective English Teaching and Speaking (WEETAS), which is soon to be renamed Youth Partners for Education-Liberia. I am also the organizer of the first ever poetry and spoken word competition in Western Liberia. Currently, I have worked with more than 3,500 people through my volunteer and education initiatives. And I owe it all to the YES program – it is the Big Bang of my life.
I grew up in Bopolu City (the capital of Gbarpolu County). Bopolu is a very beautiful city surrounded by hills and fresh bodies of flowing water. Because of its large rainforest, Gbarpolu has a lot of wildlife, and the county is extremely green. Bopolu’s culture is unique, though cultural practices don’t always support human rights. Tradition is very important in this area.
As a student at Bopolu Central High school, it broke my heart when my peers dropped out of school because of teenage pregnancy and becoming young parents. I always wondered what the cause if this was. After extensive research, I came to understand that young people, especially those living in the most rural areas, are more influenced by traditional practices than they are exposed to opportunities. They are taught the values of tradition over modern academic education, so they put in less effort towards their education. More than half the students who drop out of school each year live in the most rural areas, and all they’ve known in life is that their next step is bearing children.
As a young person, I feel hurt when other young people are unable to think for themselves; when they miss out on their potential by following what other people think they should be doing. There is a great need for these young people to see the value of quality education as it can lead to a better future.
To help address this problem, my team applied for a YES Alumni Grant to implement the second edition of our project, Restoring the Educational Hope. (Read about our first project here.) During a three-day conference in Bopolu, we talked to over 80 youths about the pros and cons of western education and Liberian traditions, including the cruel and dangerous practice of female genital mutilation and bearing children at an early age. We used interactive games and activities to erase the common misconception that modern education makes one lose his or her true African identity. The conference also taught these youths how to prevent pregnancy, stand up for their rights, make wise choices, and say no to sexual harassment and violence.
One participant said that he realized now that he had a lot of potential and could use it to help his community. Another participant said, “The values I have learned [through this workshop] will stay with me, and I will pass them on to other young people.” Many participants said they gained the motivation to stand up for their rights after the workshop.
The primary goal of the project was to install a desire among disadvantaged youths to want to learn and transform their lives and communities for the better. Therefore, we have decided to continue the project, extending it to other disadvantaged communities in Liberia. Our project team is currently looking at other funding sources to keep the project moving. We plan to raise funds via GoFundMe, Facebook, MTN mobile money, and local community fundraising. We also plan to apply for other grant opportunities through local and international governmental and non-governmental agencies.
The credit for the success of this project lies with our sponsors and hardworking volunteers, partners, and speakers. I extend my thanks and appreciation to the sponsor of the YES program, the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. I also want to thank iEARN-Liberia, A.G. Bakery and Catering Services, the Bopolu City Council, the Bopolu Central High School, REH volunteers – Korvah M. Fromayan (YES ’16), Jel D. Luma, Koiwu Gboluma, John Lamin, Sam Godfrey, Joshua Mendscole – Radio Gbarpolu, Henry Gboluma, YES Alumni-Liberia, and my host family, school, and friends for making this a great success.