Empowering To Transform -YWCA Jewels Training Center Graduates 204 Women

For more than two decades, a vision to transform the lives of young women and girls across Liberia was finally etched into history as Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor witnessed the first graduation ceremonies of about 204 young women and girls from the YWCA Jewels Training Center in different vocational disciplines: Information Communication Technology (ICT) arts and design, quilting and nails arts, Beads making and cosmetology.

Amidst the monumental responsibilities which come with the Vice Presidency, Madam Vice President continues to hold the torch as the undisputed leader and ardent supporter for the empowerment of women and girls. Through her Jewel Starfish Foundation, she has provided scholarships for thousands of young women and girls across the country; an initiative which continues to expand exponentially beyond the borders of Liberia.

Being tagged by political pundits as Liberia’s second most powerful female politician, Vice President Howard-Taylor history of service to humanity is replete with massive successes; a history which cannot be ignored.

At the glamorous graduation ceremonies witnessed by local and international partners, the Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the institution, Mrs. Dellnot W. Gardiner said the initiative was underpinned by the Liberian Vice President’s passion to see underprivileged females empowered and supported to do something meaningful with their hands through the Jewel Starfish Foundation.

Mrs. Gardiner said this initiative is an offspring of what is being done at the Jewel Starfish Foundation to support underprivileged females. The foundation, according to her, has supported more than 7,000 females through programs and education, psychosocial support, leadership and mentoring by raising awareness about SGBV issues; through promoting sexual reproductive health rights; as well as through advocacy for social protection and inclusion of women.

She indicated that the Vice President Howard Taylor’s humanitarian work has touched the lives of girls not only in the 15 counties of Liberia but also in Ghana, Malawi, and Sierra Leone.

“This vision is birthed from her stellar passion for ensuring that young ladies learn how to work with their hands as a means of self-empowerment. VP Taylor’s vision for ensuring an educated female population is based on her belief that educated girls can make informed choices from a far better range of options and that educating girls saves lives, build stronger families, communities and economies; and that an educated girl increases the nation’s chances for achieving the highest quality of life,” Mrs. Gardiner said.

In remarks, the guest speaker of the first graduation ceremony, Rev. Dr. Adam M. Kyne stated that the skills training initiative is an evidence of the long years Vice President Howard Taylor had committed to the transformation of the lives of numerous young people; compassionate nature; and unwavering dedication. “You are a revered figure and a beacon of hope for the countless lives of young people you have touched; and your compassion for the wellbeing of people. You carry the mark of an extraordinary leader,” Rev. Dr. Kyne said while testifying about his encounter with Madam Howard Taylor in 1998 during a high school arts competition when she awarded him a full scholarship to attend the Don Bosco Polytechnic. He spoke on the topic: “From Dreams to Realities -you have made it.”

“Being a young woman in Liberia is challenging; It comes with burdens and unfair expectations. The fact that you have made it, embrace your wholesome. Within you resides a new strength of talents waiting to be revealed; be the best version of yourself because then nobody can threaten you; no system can intimidate you.  So, if you want to bake bread, bake it in a way that nobody can threaten your baking skills; if you are going to sew, sew well so that nobody can threaten your tailoring skills. Be your best. Don’t compare yourself to others; compare yourself to the best version of yourself. It means acknowledging your strengths, working on your weaknesses, and seeking growth. Set goals, pursue further education, and always believe in your ability to create a positive impact. By becoming the best version of yourself, you inspire others and ignite a ripple effect of transformation within your communities,” the Baptist clergyman stressed.

Liberia’s Vice President remarked that there are not many opportunities that move her spirit and heart like opportunities such as this. “I would not have missed this for the world. So, I want to thank everybody for making this day possible. The vision for transforming the lives of women can never be understated. It is because of our God given responsibilities as women that I take time to ensure that women have the empowerment and capacity that they need to be helpmates to their families, husbands, communities and nation. Let me say congratulations to all of you for remaining engaged and never giving up. This cohort started with 240 young women but about 30 dropped off -this should be a serious message for each of you: dropping out takes you back to the bottom of the ladder. And you that have stayed engaged and completed this process, I know you will go on to do great things. The opportunities you are taking responsibility for today has now empowered each of you. This opportunity is worth every single penny; it is worth every single sacrifice because we are building a new nation and all of these building blocks are needed. I know now that as a result of this opportunity, each of you can now become positive role models in your communities and in your families. I want to be an example to you. From girl born in Zorzor, Lofa County and moved to Monrovia and lived in a zinc house. I can remember my father had my college graduation party when we used to live in that zinc house. Are there challenges? Yes, there would be but you must remain focused and determined.”

She entreated donors and well-meaning people and organization to see the need to support this initiative so that it continues to be free to empower young women. “If we say girls are important, we should put our money where our mouths are. It cannot be let them go and find their way. This program has to remain free but we need partnerships. We got more than 600 applications but we did not have the space to accommodate everyone. So, in the coming months, we will be building an annex to provide additional space. We are hoping that you will join us. The next class will open in January 2024. When women are empowered, the world is transformed,” Vice President Howard Taylor pointed out.

The star attraction of the ceremony was a physically challenged young lady, Musu Gartee, who lost one of her hands during the 2003 war in Liberia but has not given up on herself.

“We have been having this passion to learn ever since but most of the training institutions charge high fees and material cost have been the stumbling block. I don’t see myself different from anyone because I know once I have life in me, I can do anything. I do everything a normal woman with two hands would do: cooking, cleaning, and fetching water from the well. I like to do things for myself because when I am out there tomorrow, there would be no one to do it for me,” Musa said to a deafening cheer of attendees.

For Joyce Dahn, one of the young ladies who completed the six months training with high marks, said she and her colleagues were grateful to the YWCA Jewels Training Center pioneered by the first female Vice President that has taken them from the state of being considered nobody to a state of being somebody; “for making us to know that the future depend on us; for creating a space for good learning; modern learning equipment that have helped us to become new women today.”

Joyce said she benefited from this program as a single mother with the desire to learn and become a better person. “I scheduled two hours ahead of class time every day to be ahead of my classmates and did my assignments on time in order to navigate the system. This program has given me the opportunity to become more self-reliant. Madam Jewel Howard Taylor is one of the few women Liberians must be grateful for due to her enormous strides in taking steps towards helping young women to move closer to their dreams. I want all young women like myself to make the most of this golden opportunity to do something for themselves,” Miss Dahn intimated.

Also speaking, the Board Chairperson of the Jewel Starfish Foundation, Madam Norwu Howard said when this initiative started two years ago, the founder, VP Howard Taylor had the dream of seeing the YWCA of yesterday rebound. “Simply put, our goal is to leave no one behind! The Jewels Training Center is only a part of our mandate to assist the Government of Liberia in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and Liberia’s Pro Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development pillars: 1, 2, 3; thus contributing to reduction in poverty, jobs creation and subsequently sustaining the peace. But we can only continue this feat with partners across the board. To those who are already our partners, it is because of your commitment that the parents of several girls can sleep at night,” the Foundation Board Chairperson stated.

A member of the YWCA Board, Cecelia Talawally stated: I am inspired by your message today that has put us in gear to continue teaching and mentoring more young women and children. To the graduating class, it was tough but it was worth it.”

The Minister of Education, Prof. D. Ansu Sonii remarked “this is a personal initiative of the Vice President, the Ministry of Education will provide Musu a US$1,000 to buy a startup kits.”

One of the committed partners of the Jewel Starfish Foundation, CEMENCO promised to continue to support and work with the Foundation in order to ensure the sustainability of this project.

The YWCA Jewels training center was founded by Chief Dr. Jewel Howard Taylor, Vice President of the Republic of Liberia. This project was launched on July 25, 2022. The aim is to build female capacities in becoming great leaders and making a difference with their hands.

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