– Struggling lad in rural Liberia with architectural talent and passion for nation-building uses craft to pay his school fees
By Samuel G. Dweh
The two-storey model mansion, built by 17-year-old Jacob A. Trawally, is displayed in front of his family’s two-room mud hut in the Wenneh Town community of Margibi County for everyone to see.
“I built it with cartons,” Jacob, a 9th grade student of the Kakata Community College, told this writer at a program in the Wenneh Town community on Saturday, May 6, 2017.
Materials used in the construction of the house included gas, paper glue, hard papers (from cartons), brush (for painting or varnishing), scissors, knife, water and paint.
A white satellite dish, made from aluminum, sits on the roof made of paper and pieces of zinc Jacob had collected from various building construction sites in his community.
“The house has four bedrooms, two bathrooms, and one big living room,” Jacob explained to this writer, who was attracted by such a masterpiece, admiring it, and asking a string of questions. It also has a gated car garage, with a model car parked in it.
My mission in the Wenneh Town community was to serve as rapporteur of a three-day elections period violence prevention workshop for motorcyclists’ associations and Liberia National Police officers based in Margibi County. The workshop was held at the Wenneh Town Sports Pitch under the auspices of the Pen-Pen Peace Network (PPPN). During my spare time I took a stroll around the community and, just beyond the first row of mud structures in the area, I stumbled upon Jacob’s creation, propped up on a wooden chair in front of the mud hut where he lives with his grandmother.
Jacob said he wants to be an architectural engineer. “In the future, I want to construct storey buildings for my country, Liberia, like other people are doing for their countries,” he declared with patriotic fervor.
Jacob started constructing the model during the worst health crisis in Liberia’s history. “I started during the Ebola time, in 2014, but I stopped construction several times due to money problems and to focus on my school work,” he explained.
According to him, the model house, which he priced at US$50, is one of several architectural models he has produced and sells to pay his school fees. “The money I get from my works is spent on preparation of my 9th grade WAEC (West African Examination Council) exams,” he said.
The problem with this young ingenious lad, who has been living with his grandmother since he was nine months old, is his lack of business knowledge or a strategy to get his production on the radar of the right customers. “I display them in front of my house and people see them and buy them if they love them,” he responded to my question about the visibility of his production in Margibi County. Given that Jacob pours so much creative passion into one project after another, the finished product sits on display at home until a customer stumbles upon it and is willing to buy. “I don’t take my works around to sell,” he added.
Jacob said he yearns for attention from any Margibi County official in the local leadership or the national legislature for financial assistance to gain more training to develop his talent, but has not been lucky with anyone stepping forth with the help.
He believes this help could come fast through regular publicity of his creations by roving journalists living or corresponding from Margibi County or Kakata. “Journalists are living in Kakata here. Some of them have seen my works, but none of them has promoted any of my works on their radio programs or newspapers,” Jacob said in a plaintive tone.
Liberia’s current economic situation, engendered by the country’s civil war, and national government’s priority areas often push the majority of Liberian journalists to prioritize only politics or human rights issues for the radio or newspaper.
Many grade schools have added Creative Arts to their curricula for talented kids like Jacob. One of these schools is the Light International School, located at Airfield Shortcut, in Sinkor, outside Monrovia. But school fees are unaffordable for a talented person whose family hardly gets a three-square meal a day, like Jacob’s.
For now Jacob’s father, Abraham Trawally, and mother, Fatumata Trawally, can’t help him get modern art tools due to each person’s financial limitations. “They are in Monrovia, hustling,” Jacob’s paternal grandmother, Miatta Johnson, disclosed in an interview with this writer.
Jacob is one of hundreds of different talented youth littering the entire land space called Liberia. They are brimming with talent, imagination and persistence — natural abilities that can transform Liberia into an infrastructural paradise like countries Liberians often dream of being in. But, with the absence of a viable national talent-development program, these nation-building gifts would make no impact in time.
When asked what he wants the government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs & Tourism (MICAT), or private Liberian businesspeople to do for him, young Jacob first stared into the space ahead of him. “The government should see (talented people) as builders of the nation, as politics or trading,” he mused, his attention still on the empty space.
Samuel G. Dweh is a journalist, creative writer, author, publisher of Edu-Diary (education newspaper) and a member of Liberia’s two writers’ organizations: Press Union of Liberia (PUL) and the Liberia Association of Writers (LAW). He can be reached via: +231 886 618 906/ +231 776 583 266; E-mail: [email protected].