The County Education Officer for Bong County, Mrs. Beatrice Saye Bonner, has disclosed that schools’ activities are being stalled as the result of the operation of traditional culture (poro and sande secret societies) in the county.
Our Correspondent in Bong said the Poro and Sande Secret societies are primarily for the training of boys and girls in the areas of respect for older people and marriage.
Speaking recently in the town of Wainsue, a few miles away from the provincial town of Gbarnga, Mrs. Bonner emphasized that enrollment in most of the schools— specifically in the leeward districts where activities of the Poro and Sande societies are active— has dropped considerably.
The County Education Officer maintained that despite government’s free and compulsory primary education initiative, many parents are still sending their children to the Poro and Sande societies during normal school activities.
Madam Bonner told the audience that her administration and the Government of Liberia were not against the operation of the traditional secret societies; but stressed that it should be carried out when the students are on break.
“We are not against our cultural heritage, but we want our people to understand that the practice should not be prioritized over education. This has a direct effect on our children’s future. We plead with our traditional leaders to see reason and to adjust the exercises of traditional culture to a time when schools are closed” Madam Bonner pleaded.
The CEO explained the practices are not deeply affecting the urban schools as much as the rural schools where the vast majority of the student population lives.
“This practice is greatly affecting our girls because by the time they are 10 they begin to grow breasts and are suitable for the Sende Bush. This is why we are appealing to our traditional leaders for adjustment in the exercise,” the County Education Officer emphasized.
Madam Bonner reiterated that if no concrete measures are put into place to regulate the duration of the cultural practices, it may lead many people to drop out of school altogether; especially the girls.
When contacted the Chief Elder for Bong County Moses Suakollie confirmed that the practice was going on in some parts of the county but was swift to notify this paper that his leadership is in constant communication with the requisite authorities for negotiation.
Mr. Suakollie told the Daily Observer that the traditional Zoes and the county leadership are working out modalities to see how they can set up a timetable for the practice.
“When everything works well, the time frame for the practice will be at most one month instead of the regular one year” Mr. Suakollie clarified.
Despite human rights groups and the international community’s persistent condemnation of the practice— specifically female genital mutilation— Liberia is one of the countries in Africa that still continues the practice.
Sampling the views of the ordinary citizens, many described the County Education Officer’s statement as disrespect to tradition, while other believed that the practice be suspended during normal school activities to provide opportunities for school enrollment.