United States First Lady Michelle Obama may have donated US$27 million for rural girls and women’s education in Liberia, but the mere presence of the First Lady and her daughters in Liberia was priceless to the hundreds of adolescent girls who made their way to the Robert Stanley Caulfield School to see them.
Smell-No-Taste, Obama Style
The girls, many of them as young as ten, defied the heavy downpour that threatened their presence at the school to get a glimpse of the First Lady and her beautiful daughters. Many were from Unification Town (also known as Smell-No-Taste) and other surrounding towns and villages, while others had come from as far as Buchanan, Monrovia and Firestone to be part of such a historic event.
However, due to protocol arrangements, their diligent efforts did not yield the expected results. In true ‘Smell-No-Taste’ form, they could not even get a glimpse the US First Lady and her daughters.
In spite of their disappointment, the girls’ perspectives on the once-in-a-lifetime event were nothing short of profound.
According to the adolescent girls who spoke to the Daily Observer, the presence of the Obamas, especially the daughters Malia and Sasha, who many of the Liberians girls consider as peers, means more to them than whatever may have been donated. At the time, they did not know the amount was a whopping US$27 million. However, for the girls, it was never really about the money because, according to them, they “already know that the millions donated may never reach in order to feel the impact” of it on their lives.
Call them cynical or realists, if you will, but the girls said they were only grateful that Malia and Sasha had come such a long way to Liberia to get first hand information and experiences as to how girls in the country are coping with the harsh living conditions.
A select few of them were appointed to meet with Mrs. Obama and relayed their stories – many of which are similar to thousands of other adolescent girls.
A great many of the girls in Liberia need help; many are not in school, vulnerable to forms of domestic violence, especially rape and child slavery, while some face serious health predicaments—infectious circumstances.
“Malia and Sasha’s presence with their mother here brings hope that we can overcome our current harsh realities in life and become whatever we dream of becoming in life. I want to say their presence here indicates that they bear our pains,” said Adah Thompson, a high school student
who spared no effort to be there.
“I came here to see Obama’s wife and his daughters. Last night I could not sleep because I wanted to make sure that I came here in time so I can see them. So I never wanted to over sleep,” she said, adding, “But I’m really feeling bad because I was not able to see them. We have been standing in this rain since this morning.”
For Williemina Gartor, her dream was not realized because she wasn’t able to see Malia and Sasha. “My dream would have come true if I had seen them. But anyway, some of these things happen in life and I can’t blame them because they are high profile people and they need to be given the best of protection. The only thing that hurt me is that they came so close to us with their cars passing right in front of me but yet we could not see them.”
Though they weren’t privileged to see the Obamas, some weren’t discouraged, and took to other means through which their voices could be heard. “I want to talk to the press,” said Aminata Nyen a student from the Bromley Mission School in rural Montserrado County. “I want to tell Mrs.
Obama and her children how happy I am for their visit to Liberia. Their visit is a motivation for me and I will forever dream big.”
Responding to what the visit of the Obamas means to her, Aminata said, “The rise of the Obamas to such a high status, though they are black, is a motivation by itself. It takes determination to achieve whatsoever you want in life. This visit, I feel is an added impetus.”
Where will the money go?
Hawa Kermie, who came from all the way from Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, described whatsoever provision Mrs. Obama would have made as “laudable,” though it later turned out to be a donation of US$27 million to improve rural girls’ education. But she expressed skepticism over whether the donation would reach the intended people.
“Liberians would have been better off now if the millions of dollars that have been coming into this country were being utilized properly to benefit the masses. But our lives are clear examples of the high levels of mismanagement and corruption that this country has existed in, since time immemorial.
Interestingly, Hawa also blames the many of non-governmental organizations who are managing millions of U.S. Dollars in “so-called projects,” as Liberians still live in abject poverty. “With public perception aside, it is a clear fact that our government officials are corrupt; but what baffles me more are the NGOs operating in Liberia. Are they really making impacts with the millions of dollars that are given to them to come and help the Liberian people? For me, I strongly feel that they are corrupt as our government or even more.
“We are very much sure that anything that comes to this country does not reach the people it is intended for and we are sure that money donated today will be of no exception,” Hawa said.
Her statement is even validated by a recent report that millions of dollars donated to global medical and humanitarian organizations to fight the recent Ebola virus disease outbreak are still unaccounted for. Liberia’s former Minister of Health, Dr. Walter Gwenigale, also made similar statement at a program shortly following his retirement.
Meanwhile, the US$27 million, according to the First Lady’s office, will be provided by USAID to the Peace Corps Volunteers under the Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) program. It is meant to provide quality education for rural girls and women in post-Ebola Liberia. The funds will also address training opportunities for teachers and curriculum development.
In a brief statement, the First Lady said she felt the constraints women and girls are facing around the world.
“I always like to travel with my two daughters and my mother to see and know the world. About 62 million girls across the world are not in school, and how can we sit by in the United States with all the resources and not attend to the educational needs of the suffering women and girls?
We have to change the culture that girls should not go to school,” Mrs. Obama insisted.