LIBERIA: Norwegian Rights Campaigner, BFF Conduct Social Skills Development Course for Adolescent Girls

(Back roll l-r) Ms. Heidi Toresen of the University of Oslo, Norway; Augustine Arkoi, BFF President; & Mr. Charles Lawrence, National Program Officer, Democratic Development & Human Rights, Embassy of Sweden, Monrovia pose with participants.

Ms. Heidi Toresen, a visiting scholar from the Department of Sociology, University of Oslo in Norway, who recently arrived in Liberia, West Africa, has in collaboration with the Better Future Foundation (BFF), and Girls of Distinction (GOD), successfully concluded an intensive Training of Trainers (TOT) Camp for at least 30 female students and other adolescent girls from various colleges, universities and communities in Monrovia, Liberia.

Held from 16 – 22 July 2021, the BFF Social Skills Development (BFF-SSD) for Girls Camp 2021 offered certificate courses for participants with the objective of creating awareness, building self-esteem and enhancing the capacity of adolescent girls to serve as models, influencers and peer mediators in their respective schools and communities.

The training which took place at BFF Youth Enhancement Center for Peace, Democracy and Development on the main campus of the New Hope Academy on Peace Island in Jacobs Town, Paynesville, featured other distinguished professionals, academics, civil society and rights activists, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Office, the Embassy of Sweden accredited near Monrovia among others, who made basic presentations in key thematic areas including Leadership Development, Sexual & and Gender-Based Violence (SBV), Status of Sexual Reproductive Health in Liberia, Climate Change and Environment, Human Rights, Women, Peace and Security: The Interaction Between Gender and Security and Envisioning Your Future, among others.

The facilitators who made thematic presentations comprised Professor T. Debey Sayndee, Director of Kofi Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation of the University of Liberia; Cllr. Bobby Livingstone, Secretary General of the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA), who is also Chairman of the Mass Communications Department of the African Methodist Episcopal University; Benjamin Karmoh, Assistant Professor of the University of Liberia and Senior Technical Advisor of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); James Mulbah, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Green Cities Inc., who is also a Mandela Washington Fellow/Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI); Dr. Savich Sankor Karmoh, a medical expert; Charles Lawrence, National Program Officer for Democratic Governance and Human Rights of the Sweden Embassy accredited near Monrovia, Melvin Nyanway of the UN Human Rights Office in Monrovia, Atty. Alving Wheagar Yelloway, National General Affairs Officer of the Embassy of Sweden, among others.

Speaking at the opening program of the Camp, Ms. Heidi Toresen said it was an honor for her to be a part of contributing to Liberia’s post-conflict reconstruction efforts aimed at the capacity-building and empowerment of adolescent girls across the country.

Ms. Toresen said her visitation to Liberia is to enable her contribute to alleviating the overwhelming rate of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) acts, which are severely impacting women and adolescent girls.

The visiting Norwegian rights campaigner expressed her unwavering commitment and determination to work with BFF and other stakeholders in sustaining and expanding the Social Skills Development for Adolescent Girls Pilot Project in Liberia.

She challenged the participants to use the knowledge acquired from the training camp as TOTs to effect the much-needed social transformation in their respective communities, institutions and the larger Liberian nation.

At the climax of the training camp, the visiting Norwegian rights campaigners paid courtesy calls on a number of senior Liberian government officials and diplomatic missions including the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dr. Bhofal Chambers. 

The BFF delegation was received by Speaker Chambers who expressed profound gratitude to Ms. Heidi for her interest in identifying with Liberian girls at a time it is more needed to particularly brave the globally threatening COVID-19 pandemic.

“Please make Liberia your home Ms. Toresen,” the Speaker of the Liberian Parliament concluded.

Hosting the BFF delegation, at his Capitol Hill Office, the Chairman of the House Standing Committee on Health, Nimba County Representative Joseph Nyan Somwarbi, described the BFF capacity-building of adolescent girls as extremely rewarding and responsive to the Liberian government’s effort aimed at accelerating the self-esteem of adolescent girls through the acquisition of durable skills to prevent them from falling vulnerable to societal abuses including SGBV.

Rep. Somwarbi who is a respected health technician with specialty in sexual reproductive health and Master’s Public Health, on behalf of the government thanked the lead facilitator from the University of Oslo, Norway, for her time and resources committed to train and enhance the capacity of adolescent girls in Liberia.

He said, as the COVID-19 continuous to render most laborers redundant and non-essential workers, the acquisition of smart social skills and empowerment of adolescent girls to make them competitive in society cannot be overemphasized.

Lawmaker Somwarbi told the visiting guest “Please remember your students who you taught and their quest for more knowledge as the basis to always feel welcomed to Liberia.”       

Ms. Toresen’s intervention in the empowerment of adolescent girls in Liberia was also hailed by the Chairperson of the National Civil Society Council of Liberia, Madam Loretta Alethea Pope-Kai who pledged to work with BFF, a viable member of the National Civil Society Council for sustainability of the program.

At the Swedish Embassy near Monrovia, the BFF delegation was welcomed by the National Program Officer for Democratic Governance and Human Rights, Mr. Charles Lawrence, and assured the support of the Embassy for the training program.

The BFF Delegation accompanying Ms. Toresen finally visited, and met with the Deputy Minister of Gender for Research, Planning & Policy, Hassan A. Karneh; the Assistant Minister of Gender for Children & Social Protection, Madam Maminah Carr Gaye; and the Assistant Minister of Education for Planning, Research & Development, Dominic Kweme, all of whom on behalf of the Government of Liberia embraced, and expressed profound gratitude to Ms. Toresen and BFF for the social skills development camp conducted to build and enhance the capacity of adolescent girls in Liberia.

Meanwhile, BFF President, Augustine Arkoi, lauded the Norwegian rights campaigner and scholar for coming to Liberia for the training and empowerment of adolescent girls in the country at this time when the entire world is combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr. Arkoi applauded the course lecturers including the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA), the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, and particularly the Ambassador of Sweden, Ingrid Wetterqvist, for donation of nose masks, T-shirts and sexual reproductive health kits through DKT; and special collection of books on human rights and international development for use by BFF at its Youth Enhancement Center for Peace, Democracy and Development and the Embassy’s continuous partnership and increasing support in strengthening the capacity of Liberian youth and students especially adolescent girls.

The BFF Boss disclosed that the participants represented 16 educational institutions, 11 ethnic groups, and 21 communities within Montserrado County. Among the educational institutions were six universities and 10 high schools who successfully completed the 44 hours training course at the SSD for Girls camp 2021.

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