Liberia: At 10, Gbowee Peace Foundation Breaks Ground for US$500K Girls Education Center

Elder Cooper of Melekie Town breaks ground as Madam Gbowee (far left) and others look on.

Editor note: The story has been corrected to reflect the actual amount of the project, which was wrongly started as US$5K instead of US$500k

The Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa (GBFA), a philanthropic organization founded and operated by Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah R. Gbowee, on Wednesday, January 26, broke ground in Melekie Town, on the outskirts of Gbarnga City, for the construction of a girls’ center.

Giving an overview of the project, which is expected to begin soon, Madam Gbowee said the need for girls’ education and skills training and empowerment is ever increasing and, as such, her Foundation is ready to build a center that will train 22 girls at a time for the good of the people of Bong County, Liberia at large, yea the world. 

“For many years now, finding boarding schools that have quality education in Liberia has been very difficult. We thought of the idea of sending some of them to Ghana but the cost was just too much. 

“Then we decided to find a solution and, thankfully, Cuttington University has been our biggest investment in terms of caring for our university students. But how do we continue with students in grade school is now the issue we are here to address,” Gbowee said as her audience cheered her on.

She said the number of girls in dire need of education and empowerment in the GPFA program has increased to twenty two (22). “Knowing the culture of child and women molestation, most of these young ladies we get are from very challenging backgrounds,” she added. 

“Part of this land we will have gardens. We will hire some people from the town and our girls will work there on weekends. We will borrow from Rev. Mengo. He has a farm in Bassa. Students’ grades get to be good, students work on the farm on weekends and you earn some money. He keeps their money and parcels it during vacation and gives it to the students to use it at leisure. That will be part of our programs here,” she continued.

Madam Gbowee boasted that some of the girls her foundation caters to have learned how to make soap and, with this knowledge, they will be producing soap for their own use and some for sale.

She expressed hope and confidence that every project initiated at the new learning center will be sustained.

“We are hopeful that we can also start our own bakery so that they can bake their own bread and we sell it out there,” she noted.

Architecture of the building to be constructed

According to the GPFA president, the building, when constructed, will be a multipurpose structure for not only the benefit of those for whom GPFA is providing care, but for the community as well.

Gbowee: “This building will have two floors. The ground floor will have ten rooms to accommodate only twenty girls at a time. The second floor will also have ten rooms that we will be renting to organizations and churches having programs in Gbarnga. When school is out, we can rent to people who want to do retreats. There will be two conference rooms that people will use for training and other things.”

The facility will also comprise a computer room, a crafts room, a palaver hut, a study hall and an entertainment room.

She continued that there will be machines in the crafts room so the students would learn how to make things.

In memory of 5 murdered nuns

Madam Gbowee said the center will be named “The Sisters’ Place,” in memory of the five Catholic nuns who were murdered in 1993 when former rebel leader Charles Taylor led his faction in a military operation called Octopus.  Octopus was put in place to enter and capture Monrovia. 

“We are calling it The Sister’s Place,” Madam Gbowee said. “29 years ago in this Bong County, just across the street from here, former President Taylor had his farm. Taylor and his men sat right here in Gbarnga and planned something called Operation Octopus. Many people in this room know what Operation Octopus did to us. The plan was to attack Monrovia like the tentacles of octopus. Everywhere was gun shots, bombs and anything you can think about.

“Here, five Catholic nuns who have lived in Liberia almost all their lives, providing empowerment for women in their different spaces, doing what they loved, were killed.”

She said although she is not Catholic, she and her friends remember with great respect the works of those nuns at the time.

“Twenty nine (29) years later, I am not a Catholic but I tell people I went to a Baptist school as a nursery student, a Lutheran school, an Episcopal high school, graduated from a Catholic college and I find myself in many Pentecostal Churches. So I am really a daughter of Glorious Jesus,” she said to the applause of the audience, including a representative of the Catholic church in Liberia.

She said she has gotten the full support of a donor who is ready to raise almost the entire US$500,000 for the project and that individual is an American living in the United States, but with the same dream of helping people, mainly women.

Gbowee noted that her job is not tied to politics but love for her people.

Employment opportunities

Madam Gbowee said there will be no one from outside of Bong County doing a job at her center that the people of the county are already capable of doing.

“We will be bringing a brick-fixing machine from China and someone will come and train the people here to use it. We will not bring people from Monrovia to come to Bong and do jobs [that] people here can be trained to do. Women will be hired to cook and many more job opportunities, including security guard service will come from the people of Melekie, the land owners and other Bongese,” she assured the people.

Land size

The current size of the land space acquired by GPFA is six acres but the Foundation is appealing to the people of Melekie to sell additional four acres to GPFA so as to have space for all the facilities needed, including a Library that is expected to be installed by the Kids Educational Engagement Project (KEEP), an organization that specializes in setting up libraries and reading rooms.

Also speaking, Mary Lateh, Paramount chief of Melekie and other towns of the chiefdom in Central Bong, said she and her people are happy that their own daughter has decided to return home and build for the good of her own people.

On behalf of her people, Paramount Chief Mary Lateh heaped praises on Madam Gbowee and blessed her as she has embarked on the project, hoping also that the people of Melekie will see reason and give the additional four acres needed for the full construction of all of the facilities needed at “The Sisters’ Place.”