LIBERIA: Change Agent Network Partners With GGAA To Build Educational Village In Grand Gedeh County -Locals Celebrate Milestone Initiative

After toiling for more than 16 hours on mud-laden roads from Grand Bassa to Zewdru, Grand Gedeh County, a team from Change Agent Network (CAN) or Opportunity Network Liberia (ONLIB) arrived in the Southeastern City of Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County to a warm welcome from citizens. The team left Monrovia on August 27th and returned on September 3rd, 2022, comprised of Dr. Stefania Forte, Board President of CAN, and Mr. Eric W. Wowoh, Founder and Executive Director of the organization.

The visit, according to CAN Executive Director, was intended to bring the locals up to speed on educational infrastructure development program within the county and to ensure that it is locally embraced, owned, operated, sustained and protected by the direct beneficiaries.

“We decided to come and meet with the people in the county. We cannot come here with any form of developments without the knowledge, support, engagement, and involvement of the local people themselves. The team met with the traditional council and the elders, the youth, the women, the political leadership of the county as well as other people to share the message of the mission, vision, and local ownership of this great program from the very beginning. We do this because if you don’t get them involved from the onset, it might be difficult to get them on board at the end,” Mr. Wowoh said.

He disclosed that there would be two massive programs undertaking this year in Zwedru City which are namely: The Women & Children Resource Center and the Grand Gedeh County Leadership Academy that would be owned, operated, and supported by the Grand Gedeh Association in the Americas (GGAA) and the citizens of the county both at home and abroad. The GGAA have provided 5 acres of land located in the Boleyville Community area on the outskirts of Zwedru City for the construction of this incredible education village. The deed and all legal documents of this property are in the name of the GGAA.

There will also be an extension of this great education program to Gbarzon District, particularly in Zleh Town with a vocational school on a 180 acres of land which have been provided by the local people themselves. The name of the school is Zleh Town, Gbarzon District, Academic and Vocational Village which will be built on 30 acres of land taken out of the 180 acres of land which have been donated. The remaining 150 acres of property will be used for commercial agriculture purposes to generate funds to help sustain the program locally. The deed and all legal paperworks of this property are in the name of the Gbarzon District Association in the Americas (GDAA).

The CAN Executive Director indicated that the projects will not be built solely by Change Agent Network on a dollar-for-dollar march basis. “We told both the Grand Gedean Association in the Americas (GGAA) and the Gbarzon District Association in the Americas (GDAA) that CAN will march every dollar given towards the construction of these two massive education programs in the county. We are not the one that is going to do everything out of pockets. If for example, GGAA bring US$10,000.00, we will bring the same amount because it is their own work we are helping to implement. We want you to take ownership,” he pointed out. He added

Mr. Wowoh informed the citizens that the workforce for the project will be recruited from the county exclusively.

The President of the Board of CAN, Dr. Stefania Forte said the organization’s engagement with the GGAA and GDAA did not come on the spur of the moment but as a consequence of an invitation from the GGAA specifically for her to serve as guest speaker at their 32nd Annual Convention held on May 13 – 15, 2022 Kansas City, Missouri, USA.

Change Agent Network has a strict policy that restricts it to go to a space where it is invited only. According to her, the invitation to be guest speaker culminated into pseudo invitation that provided an opportunity for conversation that would eventually lead to the construction of a monumental educational empowerment village that the county might have never seen before.

Dr. Forte intoned that the Grand Gedean Association in the Americas had earlier envisioned the erection of a statue in honor of former Liberian President Samuel Kanyon but CAN suggested that as good as the statue project is, there was a need to expand the impact of the former Liberian leader’s memory through education given the fact that would align with the educational objectives of CAN.

“So, the idea of the Grand Gedeh County Leadership Academy and the Grand Gedeh County Women & Children Resource Center initiated by the Grand Gedeh Women’s Initiative and the GGAA is solidarity work” Dr. Forte stated.

She emphasized that this is not “us bringing something to the county. It is us working together with the county -solidarity work. Our organization’s philosophy is “not charity but solidarity”. You meet us halfway to solve a problem but you also have expectations. So we are here to get the people to understand the vision and buy into it. Once the people understand, then we can proceed. These consultations are important because we are solidifying the proposal. It is tedious and it involves a lot of work but we have done it in other counties. So we are excited to be here.”

According to her, the women and children resource center will be the first time in the national setting that such magnitude of space is available for only women and children and their needs to service them.

“It would be an example for other counties to imitate. Those are not just schools and resource centers; those are historical first time milestone projects – because the school is not just school but academic village. We will provide a quality of education that when they leave the county, they would not be mesmerized since they would be able to say that they have had access to languages; I have had access to online learning, classical music and playing instruments. So, when we talk about school, we are not bringing just school. We are bringing a robust academic experience to the child –one that probably would be the first time the county has seen. It is not just the passion but the technical knowhow. So, we’ve come with that expertise because we’ve done it in other counties. We will have clinics, technical and vocational training, tailoring program,” Dr. Stefania Forte stressed.

Superintendent Kai Farley expressed how impressed he was by what he saw that Change Agent Network has done in other counties when he met the team in audience at his office.

“I want to stress that nobody can do it for us but ourselves. It takes a person who has a heart to do this work. I entreat you to be ambassador so that our brothers and sisters in the diaspora can see the need to come back home to help with development. There is nowhere like home. We will give our fullest support,” Superintendent Farley said.

For her part, Zwedru City Mayor Cecilia Harris-Jolo indicated that she is very happy that CAN is collaborating with the Grand Gedean Association in the Americas considering to undertake such a project. “If I had my own will, I would even suggest that the project starts today,” she added.

Grand Gedeh County Assistant Superintendent for Development, Betty Breeze Doh mentioned that she was happy to receive the delegation especially with such a good news of planning to construct a learning academy in Grand Gedeh County.

“I heard about the Grand Gedeh Women project and I stressed the need for community engagement to assess the real need of the people. Then the need for a quality learning facility became one. We need real schools. Learning environment in most of our schools is very poor. Many schools have overcrowded classes. We toy with education too much in this country. When former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said Liberia’s educational system was a mess, she was right. It is indeed a mess,” the Grand Gedeh County Assistant Superintendent for Development emphasized.

For the rural women of Grand Gedeh County President Yesadea Barzon, the long silence of the GGAA and other citizens of the county in the diaspora was already sowing pessimism that no rural woman gave birth to a child who lives in the United States or other parts of the world that would think about returning home.

“We have been wondering whether no rural woman gave birth to children that are living abroad and successful to think about home. With our heart, we welcome you. I thank you for reaching out to us and not meeting the political leadership and stopping there. I have been wondering: as rural women, none of us give birth to a child or children in the United States and other parts of the world that would look and remember the sacrifices their mothers made to take care of them through farming and other means?” she averred.

Madam Barzon noted that there was a time that women were made to sit home while the men went to school. Nowadays, according to her, it is not happening anymore. “Every rural woman is aware of her rights and educational opportunities are available for everyone,” the Rural Women leader told the visiting delegation.

She spoke as they sang: no longer men in front and women at the back, together, we will walk side-by-side.  “As women of Grand Gedeh, we stand ready to work with you during the construction period,” she said.

The Youth of the county entreated the team to have people solely responsible for ensuring that this project is implemented without setback due to mismanagement.

Youth Coordinator, Youseo Dehsuah pointed out that the young people are begging our kinsmen in the Diaspora to see reason to come home and join hands to develop Grand Gedeh and not to come home as corpses.

Amid reverberating chanting of traditional slogans, the traditional Leaders said the fact that the team came from far away in the United States and travelled horrible roads to come to Grand Gedeh sends a message of commitment to service. “The traditional leaders of Grand Gedeh County stand ready to work with you to ensure that this project is implemented. We will work to ensure that every bottleneck is removed,” the spokesperson of the group said.

The Change Agent Delegation also visited Zleh Town in Gbarzohn District on bikes since their vehicles could not survive the horrifying condition of the road between Zwedru and Zai Town. They were welcomed upon arrival by residents of the town and local government and traditional leaders.

It was announced that when all goes well, the school would be constructed and ready for academy activities by 2023 school year.

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