When the Daily Observer editorial staff assembled in early December 2013 to plan its end-of-year coverage, one of the main topics, as usual, was who we would choose as Person of the Year. We had thrown about several names, most of which are prominent in society, and predominantly in the political realm. We also realized that some of the same old names were coming up from previous Person of the Year selections. So we decided that while we considered those, it would be important to ask the people of Liberia who they considered Person of the Year 2013, based on their own experience – someone who had made a lasting impact on a community or group of people.
We invited the public to nominate individuals by SMS (text message) and received nearly 50 responses over 10 days. While many of the nominations included some of the same prominent individuals we had featured in previous years, one name – Alexander Ireland, Country Director of Raise Your Hand Foundation – received over two dozen nominations.
We had no idea what to expect about this Ireland. At a point, we couldn’t get a hold of him since some of those who nominated him did not have, or were reluctant to disclose his contact information. A Facebook search for this name showed a very young fellow in his mid to late twenties, from Cuttington University. After a little chiding of a few nominators, we got in touch with Ireland and arranged an interview.
The Daily Observer is proud to announce its very first People’s Choice for the 2013 Person of the Year, Alexander Ireland. Enjoy the interview.
DO: Who is Alexander Ireland, what are you doing and what makes 24-plus people vote for you as person of the year?
AI: I am Alexander Ireland, a Liberian by birth and I was born on July 24, 1984.
During the civil war in Liberia, I traveled in 1996 with my family to seek refuge in Ghana.
While there, I had my primary and secondary education from the Prince Boateng Memory School in Ghana and later moved to Ghana Secondary School in 2001, where I graduated with an emphasis in science.
After graduation, I was trying to do Medical Science in Ghana but later I was opportune to work with several youth organizations there to see how best we can help our fellow Liberians who had the passion to go to school but did not have scholarship opportunities.
So I started working with Shelley Spurlock, Founder and President of the Raise Your Hand Foundation to establish our scholarship scheme that will come here (Liberia) and help lots of Liberians after the conflicts.
Our primary effort at Raise Your Hand Foundation, a nonprofit organization located in Rushville, California is helping in the rebuilding effort of Liberia by providing equal opportunity for Liberians who have the passion and potential to go to school but have some financial constraint.
DO: How did you hear about Raise Your Hand Foundation?
AI: RYHF, initially in Ghana, we had this program called African Young Alert Ministry, a youth program that we been running all around in Ghana, helping Liberians at the refugee camp in 2006. Prior to my coming home, we tried getting around lot of people who would be able to help create opportunities for Liberians to come back home.
Many Liberians out there do not want to come home – not that but there are refusing, but they have the fear of how to start life once they come. They do not know what to do, no academic potential or something that will be able to help them fit in society or corporate world so, most of them are still in Ghana as refugees and because of the phobia they do not want to come back home.
So what we have been doing as AYAM is to go around International donors and other people from around the world to help mold or promote a program that will be able to help Liberians return home. Through that we came in touch with Shelley Spurlock, Founder and President of RYHF and her entire team from the USA.
So when they arrived in Ghana 2006, we had a mass conference with them discussing the need to come back home.
What did we do? The first program that RYHF established was called “Home for the Holidays,” a program designed for people to come back [to Liberia]. We provided them with transportation by air or road, and budget was set. When you arrived, all you had to do was to contact us.
Basically, we had already established our scholarship program and everything but the problem was we did not want to perform or carry out the program in Ghana.
We needed to help Liberians, so we decided to come back home.
We started in 2006 in Ghana and moved to Liberia in 2008, with me serving as education liaison officer for Raise Your Hand Foundation.
We worked from May until August 2008 and, in September, we officially launched the full scholarship program, aimed at creating an opportunity for every Liberian student who has the passion to go to college but is unable because of financial need.
Our target is to be able to help every Liberian student with the potential to have a degree they need to function in society, because we believe that to help the society or help Liberia in the rebuilding process is to help build the human capacity of the Liberian people.
Our scholarship program does not cover every aspect of academics in Liberia. I did some research and one of the major questions we asked was which careers the various universities see as priority for the future of Liberia, because our priority is to help rebuild Liberia.
Currently, I am serving as the country director for RYHF. In 2011 the organization was officially launched in Liberia as “RYHF Liberia Incorporated,” but before the incorporation, we had been giving scholarships to Liberians all across the nation. We currently have students in Cuttington University, Stella Maris, Mother Patern College of Health Sciences, Smythe Institute and we are still trying to incorporate the University of Liberia Geology Department and also have Grand Bassa Community College, Bomi Community College and others.
DO: And which careers have those universities prioritized?
AI: They listed Nursing, Agriculture, Education, Social work, Social Welfare, and Medicine – biology and chemistry. So these are the courses that we are focusing on right now.
Some people ask us why we don’t do Public Administration, Business and all of that. We don’t because most of these administrators mention that students who studied those disciplines are floating in the society – floating, in the sense that many of them do not have job in those areas of studies.
They said Liberia, a country that is just from war needed more nurses, doctors, teachers, agriculturalists as well as architects to rebuild our country.
Therefore we focus our direction and funding accordingly. We have been working on that every year and we increase our application for the scholarship program, and you see our application have huge pour of scholarship applicant every year.
And we make sure that every applicant has equal opportunity to have the scholarship.
So what we do, we create an opportunity for people to apply if you meet every eligibility requirement than you are given the opportunity to be on the waiting list.
If we do not have funding to pick you up on the next semester, we put you on the wait list by the time we receive fund that will pick you from there.
That has been going on since 2008 up to current.
DO: How many students you enrolled every year on your scholarship program?
AI: We don’t have a specific number for our program; our scholarship is open to everybody and is one the website (www.ryhf.org).
And application process depends on our sponsor and if you go to our website and apply and meet the entire eligibility requirement than we accept you for the program.
Currently, we have over 75 students on our scholarship program across the country.
And while I was at Cuttington University I established a student chapter under Raise Your Hand Foundation, known as “Raise Your Hand Foundation Student Union,” which is now a big one.
The chapter at Cuttington is a non-political organization and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) as well. But we do human resource capacity building, leadership programs and seminars, as well as community outreach programs in Bong County, where we have our career mentorship program and projects.
Every year we set up our academic scholarship program which is for two semesters. We do not take bribe for students to get on the scholarship it is for free including tuition and fees in ensuring that our scholarship applicants meet up with their degrees.
Upon graduation you are to still in Liberia for at least three years serving the Liberian society that is our policy and it is a term and condition that we hold on firmly that students normally do.
We are not only focusing on scholarship but there are other areas that we are considering in our organization’s which has being a great help to the Liberian community.
Not many people are familiar with career mentorship program, so this organization is also working with students to grow a passion for specific program that will help the Liberian society.
DO: Can you describe the vetting process for the RHYF scholarship program?
AI: Our eligibility requirements are placed on our website, and one you should be students who had admission to any of our partnering institution and our scholarship is only restricted to college or Universities.
If you apply for the scholarship, we encourage you to maintain an average grade point of 3.0, which is required for our scholarship.
Once you maintain that grade point, we provide graduation fees for everything until you get your degree.
We also work with the various institutions to ensure that scholarships are awarded based on financial need as well as grades.
DO: Why do you think so many Liberians nominated you for this honor?
AI: Well, I think many Liberians appreciate the fact that they now have another viable option to help them move forward with their education.
Because of my commitment and persistence in my performance with the foundation, the board of directors in California, USA, gave me the “Hand of Exchange Award,” which is given annually to everybody who has contributed immensely to the work of the foundation.
Most of the people that received the award were administrators, Universities, and scholarship donors across the United States that have being given time to Raise Your Hand Foundation and it was surprising to me when I received the award.
The award was not just given to me but it was based on my performance that I received it in 2011.
You have to become selfless in this line of work. It is not easy; sometimes you face challenges but you know that it has to be somebody who’s patriotic enough to stand firm and advocate with the American people, Africans and other donor partners across the United States to raise funds to help increase our scholarship capacity every year.
DO: Have you been to California before?
AI: No, but I am trying to get there. I have to apply for my next visa and sooner or later, I am going to get there for my next vacation.
I am currently reading my Master’s at Cuttington Graduate School in Health Care Policy and Management.
And I also received my first degree in Biology and Chemistry from Cuttington, with advance certificate in Peace and Conflict Resolution study.
So, with that I have been able to build my leadership ability and interestingly, I have a natural born leadership skill which has been nurtured and improved by reading books from John C. Maxwell and other renowned leadership experts.
DO: Are you a former recipient of the scholarship?
AI: Yes, I am.
DO: Are you married?
AI: Yes, but it was done traditionally where I showed myself to the lady’s parents. We don’t have any children for now, because we are trying to build our future and also help build capacity of the youth in this country.
My wife is a graduating senior of the University of Liberia, reading Management.
DO: Is she also a recipient of the RYHF scholarship?
AI: No, that is to show how transparent we are about running this organization.
In fact, she is the one that is helping me at the University of Liberia to establish this program there at the Geology department.
DO: Any final words, you’d like to add?
AI: And let me say thank to the Daily Observer family and to the people that selected me for this year as person of the year.