The Youth Exploring Solutions (YES), an accredited non-for-profit, passionate, and voluntary grassroots youth-led development organization conducted the third edition of its annual Speak Out Girls Speech Competition in Gbarnga City, Bong County.
The event held under the theme “Breaking the Barriers for Girls” took place at the St. Matthew Academy situated along the Dementa Road in Gbarnga City, Bong County. It brought together more than 350 people of all ages and gender including 15 schools alongside 58 contestants from Gbarnga City and Suakoko District. The Managing Director Darlington Saykay Tuagben of the Forestry Development Authority delivered the keynote address.
Other dignitaries who rose to the occasion included a representative from Super Bongese Radio, Radio Kwatekeh, Red Cross Bong County chapter, and some instructional staff members of the invited schools coupled with some parents and guardians of the contestants.
Honorable Darlington Saykay Tuagben recounted his inspirational early childhood development and upbringing, narrating how he overcame exceptional odds by living and growing up in a country torn apart by Civil War. The youthful Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority disclosed that he took up a job as a conductor (Car Boy) at a tender age to earn a living and later got employed at the Ganta office of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) as a Security Guard (Watch Man).
The Liberian senior government official outlined tips on public speaking and urged girls not to be ashamed of speaking out for their rights anywhere they find themselves. He admonished girls to find their voices and speak out about issues affecting them without fear or favor.
“You have the right to achieve your full potential and measures of happiness so don’t be silent on issues that are affecting you from achieving your dream and aspiration. You need to believe in yourself and work towards everything you want to accomplish in life. Everything wouldn’t be easy, but your desire to succeed must be unending, unbinding and unwavering” Honorable Darlington Saykay Tuagben noted.
Honorable Tuagben urged everyone to allow girls to speak out about their issues and they should not be placed on the backstage. He cautioned girls to stand up for themselves and each other and let their voices to be heard.
“I invite you to sharpen your focus and pave your way towards a Liberian society that is respectful of the principle of gender equality and democracy. Let us join hands to become Champions for girls speaking out for their rights to ensure that we carry the torch which was lit by women movements and reemphasized by the Youth Exploring Solutions” the FDA Managing Director pointed out.
Speaking earlier, Stephen B. Lavalah, founder and executive director of YES revealed that the Liberian society places extra burdens on girls. Lavalah named harmful traditional practices, early marriage, poverty and teenage pregnancy as some of the leading causes for girls not being able to reach the full potential and accomplish their ambitions.
He stated: “Girls are often responsible to fetch water, prepare breakfast, get their younger siblings ready for school, clean the household, wash the dishes, and make up the beds; before ever thinking about going to school in the morning. Right after school, they have to pass in the market to buy food, hurry home to cook, wash the dirty clothes, and pick their siblings out from school.”
The founder & executive director disclosed that girls are all too often disadvantage from acquiring education due to the generalized perception that their husbands will provide for them. Lavalah said nowadays, girls are becoming homemakers and breadwinners for most families. He stressed that a considerable number of people across the country simply fail to provide girls with the similar opportunity like they do for boys.
At the same time, Lavalah has proposed the passage of a legislation that calls for free education for girls across the country, instead of enacting the Gender Parity bill into law. According to him, the Gender Parity bill will only create jobs for a few handful of educated women and girls who he believes are somewhat desperate for political power. However, he wants the proponents of the bill direct their energy to address the educational and economic needs of girls so as in the not-too-distance future large number Liberian girls turned women will be empowered, equipped and prepared to get elected positions and ascend to political offices.
“With free education for girls, our girls’ minds will be developed to compete with boys. They will become engineers to connect our roads and bridges, doctors to take care of the sick, agriculturalists to help us grow our own food, business tycoons and entrepreneurs to enable us to compete and surpass foreign businesses, and educationalists to ensure no child is left behind” the young advocate noted.
In brief remarks, Mamie Moore, Regional Coordinator of YES delineated challenges facing girls in Liberia and proffered solutions to curtailing problems. She stressed the need for girls to take their education very seriously in order to become competitive in the nearest future.
Moore, who is also a senior student at the M.V. Massaquoi Junior and Senior High School in Gbarnga City, pointed out that the Speak Out Girls Speech Competition enhances the capacity of girls in promoting their self-worth, sense of belonging and resiliency.
“We believe that girls have a unique ability to change the lives of those around them once they are given the opportunity to become involved in activities that enhance their competencies, connections, character, confidence, self-esteem, and contribution to society” the Regional Coordinator indicated.
Regional Coordinator Mamie Moore expressed her delight and gratitude for the number of contestants. She said it was the very first time since the inception of the Speak Out Girls Speech Competition that 58 contestants participated in the competition. She also conveyed YES profound thanks and appreciation to all those who contributed to the program, most especially FDA, Daily Observer Newspaper, RECOPEED, New Republic Newspaper all community radio stations in Gbarnga City.
11-year-old Student Dorris K. Zubah of the Cuttington University Campus School who spoke on the topic “Early Marriage” won the first place of LS35, 000.00. Student Dorris among other things stated that girls who get married at an early age, are often more susceptible to the health risks associated with early sexual initiation and childbearing, including HIV and obstetric fistula; the highest rates of maternal and child mortality.
Student Sawoe Goelo of the Phebe Community Lutheran High School walked away with the second place prize of LS15,000.00. Student Sawoe Goelo, 18, spoke on the topic “Girls and Rape”. She revealed that rape often results to: unwanted pregnancy, loss of life due to abortion, damage of the body organs particularly to the vagina, uterus, inability to conceive a child, tendencies of committing suicide and the loss of hope.
14-year-old Joann C.W. Kennedy of the Cuttington University Campus School and 17-year-old Gifty L. Seyaker of the Phebe Community Lutheran High School jointly won the third place prize. Joann deliberated on the topic “Girls and Environment”. She stressed that many girls in Liberia have been affected by the conditions that are provided by the environment, even though a few have managed to succeed in spite of the difficulties they encountered. While Gifty stated that teenage pregnancy is an important issue for several reasons: health risks for baby and children born to teenage mothers as well as social and emotional problems.
Speak Out Girls Speech Competition is an annual initiative of Youth Exploring Solutions designed to harness the enthusiasm, imagination, and innovation of girls in lending their voices to raise issues affecting them and provide amicable solutions. It aims to facilitate a unique platform that deepens girls understanding of personality development skills such as self-awareness, self-confidence, self-esteem, problem-solving, persuasive skills and cognitive ability to make informed decisions and smart choices. It also inspires people of all ages and gender to listen and learn from girls and take positive action about their challenges in achieving their full potential and measure of happiness.