Twenty-one adolescent girls have benefited from the maiden edition of Dr. Jabbeh Wesley’s Young Scholars of Liberia (JWYS-L) Program held over the weekend. These aspiring writers were recruited from across Bong and Montserrado counties to be part of the literacy and poetry writing initiative, following a competitive online application process. The seminar was hosted recently in Monrovia.
Dr. Wesley, a professor at Pennsylvania State University-USA, is the benefactor of the program and facilitated the seminar. She holds the distinction of being one of Liberia’s most critically acclaimed authors, with five books of poetry to her name.
She said that the initiative is aimed at unearthing and bringing into focus the immense talents that the young people possess. “It is aimed at nurturing the next generation of local writers,” she told the Daily Observer in an exclusive interview.
Dr. Wesley and her team have a vision for Liberia that intends to capture the minds of the youth in order to prepare them for a challenging world ahead.
“We do not seek to gain fame or wealth or status. All we want is to rewire the minds of our youth to think clearly about their future to go to school, and excel so they can lead healthy and successful lives tomorrow,” Dr. Wesley said.
“And the only way we know to do this is to speak from a philosophy that educating our youth is the key to the future. Nothing else matters, nothing ever did 100 years from now,” she said.
Dr. Wesley wants well meaning Liberians join the program to prepare the minds of the youth for a challenging future.
Most of Dr. Wesley’s writings, especially her poetry, shift between critical, bemused, revelatory and mournful techniques and strategies, which she intends to instill in her pupils.
“I have always had a passion for girls’ education, because I come from a family where women did not get opportunities to obtain formal education,” she said.
The seminar is not her first initiative in the country; she has been coming and conducting similar initiatives for young people and older writers. “This time, I thought to change it and focus on the kids. I want to see how I can help those who have the passion for writing,” she said.
Dr. Wesley graduated with Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree from the University of Liberia before matriculating to Indiana University–USA, where she obtained her Master’s degree and a PhD from Western Michigan University.
She said her career in writing has primarily been about giving a voice to the voiceless.
Dr. Wesley shared her life story with the participants —the tough upbringing she endured initially with a very poor single mother, and later with a father, who was well to-do but had a tough wife. Her story left the audience speechless, nearly weeping.
“When people say I have a PhD degree, and I teach at one of the best universities in the world, they got no clue what I have been through to reach thus far. So I wanted these young girls to see and know that I’m no different from them. I lived in a single room house with my mother. I live in Slip-Way in a home flooded where we had to wake up at night and stand in the water till morning. I also went to bed hungry,” she said.
She also provided a contrast. “On the other hand, my father had enough because he was educated. So I wanted them to see the contrast between the two. The lesson is that one can decide, very early too, to change your future by the decision you make, in spite of one’s circumstances,” she said.
Dr. Wesley said she does not usually share her story, but decided to because the girls are very special. “Through their commitment to this workshop, they have inspired me and I wanted them to know that they can be anything they want to be if they put their hands to it.
The seminar was also attended by one of Liberia’s writers, Nvasekie Konneh, and a publisher, Othniel D. Forte.