When civil war broke out in Liberia on Christmas Eve 1989, Josiah F. Joekai, Jr, then a ninth-grader at a boarding school in his native Lofa County, had no idea of how his life was about to change. His education would be interrupted and a few months later he would trek several miles through the jungle without food and water to reach safety across the border in Guinea.
In his book From Refugee to Prominence: A Memoire, Joekai, recalls UNHCR’s assistance to many thousands of Liberians while he lived as a refugee. “Had it not been for the assistance provided by UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in addressing the food, shelter, health and educational needs of Liberian refugees,” he notes, “the world would have experienced another human catastrophe.”
The Liberian civil war claimed the lives of at least 250,000 people and left more than 500,000 displaced.
The book tells the story of how a Liberian boy survived the ghastly civil war as a refugee in the Yomou refugee camp together with his family. The book covers his life as a refugee in the camp where he attended the local school. After graduating from high school, he was awarded a two-year UNHCR scholarship to pursue studies in administration in the Guinean capital, Conakry.
The book also reflects on the challenges of Liberians who sought refuge during this period in different parts of the world.
Joekai returned to Liberia in 1999 with UNHCR’s assistance and enrolled at the University of Liberia. He describes himself as an author and administrator. In addition to his memoir, Joekai has written Essential Elements for Liberia’s Post-conflict Recovery and Modern Poems from Liberia, which features the poem Go Home, Refugee. His books were launched in Monrovia, the Liberian capital, in June 2014 by the Speaker of Liberia’s House of Representatives.
UNHCR invited the former refugee to serve as keynote speaker at this year’s World Refugee Day event in Monrovia, during which he encouraged refugees to return home and contribute to rebuilding their countries.
“I see myself as a success story of UNHCR,” he notes. “The UN refugee agency set the stage for my real life situation.” He expressed gratitude to UNHCR, and recently presented copies of his memoir to the Organization. “My memoir is not aimed at maximizing profit, but to inspire refugees around the world that people were not created to be refugees. I want refugees to see themselves beyond their current situation.”
Joekai, a father of two children, currently serves as Director of Civic and Voter Education at Liberia’s National Elections Commission.
"Joekai's story is illustrative of the importance of investing in the education of refugees,” noted Khassim Diagne, UNHCR’s Representative in Monrovia. “UNHCR Liberia is very proud of Joekai’s achievements."