By: Leymah R. Gbowee
In 2014, I was invited to speak at SOS Hermann Gmeiner School’s graduation ceremony. Very excited after receiving the request, I told my office to accept the invite. A week before the event, my husband fell ill and was admitted. I prayed he would be discharged early so I could fly to Liberia for the ceremony. Unfortunately, it was not to be. I prepared my remarks and asked the then Executive Director of the Foundation, Liberia’s current Minister of Gender, Piso Tarr to deliver the remarks in my stead — she obliged.
After returning from the ceremony, she informed me about an exceptional young man named Prince Cooper; he was the valedictorian and had been top of his class since junior high. “Leymah, I think we should break the rules this once and offer him a fully funded scholarship to any university of his choice in Liberia.” After some consideration, I agreed, took it to the board, and the matter was settled.
Prince became a rising star like many of our female students, and eventually we began adding more boys and young men — though at a minimal rate. Like our young women, they had to exhibit definite academic strength. A few years later, a young man came with an excellent academic report. Without hesitation, we added him to the program. After two semesters, we discovered he had been falsifying his grades to meet our standards. We immediately desisted our support, but we faced a grave dilemma — there were just as many needy young men as young women, and we had to find a way of reaching them.
The following year, in the midst of figuring out how to include boys in our program, a group of young people called Kids for Peace invited me to speak to the Rock Hill community youth. The group was mostly made up of tweens and teenage girls, so I was a bit astonished during the Q&A that a young man incessantly asked questions. Finally, I requested he tell me his story — he graduated high school about 3 years prior, and his family had no means of supporting him through university. Determined to make the most of his time, he offered his services tutoring the young kids in the organization and serving as body guard/ big brother for the little girls as they went to fetch water, since incidences of rape were frequent. I was absolutely enthralled by this young man’s commitment to volunteerism. I later ask him about his dream, and he said he hoped to become an Information Technology Specialist and wished to go to the Starz College of Technology in Liberia.
God truly lays out his plans without our consent because He is God and that His purpose will stand regardless of what we think or how we feel. You see, that young man’s destiny was tied to ours long before we knew it. My husband had just been asked to serve on Starz’s board, but beyond that, the Foundation had a very strong relationship with the college.
Over the years, Liberia has become a nation where young people, especially young men, no longer want to serve their communities. They prefer to be foot soldiers for political groups, acquiring calling cards and internet data for their phones as weapons to attack critics of their ‘political puppet masters.’ To see a young man whose peers made him a laughing stock because of his commitment to community service, we had to reward him. We awarded a full scholarship and an internship position to Alvero King for his dedication. Through this young man, we found our criteria for bridging the need gap for boys — community service. However, God would use other avenues to bring us needy young men.
After the Ebola crisis, we got a lot of requests to sponsor children that had lost both parents during the epidemic. Our first group of young people was the Cooper siblings (Benson, Promise, Ruth, and Emmanuel). I had read about their struggle to survive online. Moved by their story, I connected with the journalist, and two of my sisters (Grace Jarsor and Deweh Gray) helped me locate them. We sent food & other supplies and decided to fund their education. Aware we could not discriminate, we included the boys as well. In total, we have three groups of children who lost their parents during the Ebola crisis, and boys from these families make up a large number of our male student population.
My youngest male student is now six; he was 8 months old when his siblings came into the program. My daughter Amber has a special affection for him. It is a long time before I see him graduate from high school and then college. Honestly, I look forward to all of my students/ children showing up for his graduation.
After years of having many daughters, I now have the pleasure of saying, I have sons too. Is it always easy with them? Of course not! But I have learned in these years that the Boys Are Worthy Too!