At 2017 Women’s Colloquium, Market Woman credits President Sirleaf for ability to read, write
By Gloria T.Tamba
Deborah Kollie, a graduate of the Chief Suakoko Adult literacy Program in Bong County, credits President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for her ability to read and write.
Kollie spoke Tuesday at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville, during the opening of celebrations marking the 2017 Women’s Colloquium in observance of International Women’s Day. International Women’s Day is observed March 8, every year.
Kollie, 41, who sells vegetables in the Suakoko Market, told a gathering of 1,000 people that her life was transformed when she enrolled in the literacy program, housed in the Angie Brooks International Center for Women Empowerment, Peace and Security.
The Angie Brooks Center was one of the initiatives President Sirleaf launched following the 2009 Women’s Colloquium to encourage rural women to get an education.
President Sirleaf, Kollie said, “transformed my life from worst to best.” Before enrolling at the center, “it was very difficult for me to read and write or even stand to address people. I never thought of going to school one day.”
President Sirleaf embraced Kollie as she left the podium after giving the vote of thanks.
The celebration held Tuesday and Wednesday, attracted women from all walks of life and sectors of the Liberian society and international guests, including: Ms.Maria Teresa Fernandes de la Vega, former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Presidency, Kingdom of Spain; Donatille Mukabalisa, Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Rwanda Parliament; Ms. Catherine Campbell, Ambassador designate of Ireland to Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The theme for the 2017 Women’s Colloquium is: “Women Bold in Change for A Better World.”
In her remarks, President Sirleaf highlighted some of her government’s efforts to improve the lives of Liberian women, especially rural women. Her historic election as Africa’s first female president inspired the March 2009 Women’s Colloquium that attracted women from all over Liberia and around the world.
“Today, these women have come back to celebrate the many achievements, as I am about to leave the presidential seat,” she said.
“We can claim victory because women have been part of the successes. Women are now standing up to uphold key positions in government and business. We will do more things in order to have more women in the Legislature. Since I am not going there, I will work to put you there.”
The 2017 Women’s Colloquium featured speeches, gospel and secular music and dance performances led by Cultural Ambassador Julie Endee and Kanvee G. Adams, also a candidate for representative of Montserrado District #6.
The crowd took to the dance floor and joined Kanvee Adams as she sang her signature song, “Mama, I thank God for you,” a tribute to Madam Sirleaf, who danced with the crowd encircling the stadium grounds.
Speaker after speaker talked about the strides women have made in Liberia and around the world, but underscored the importance of including women in all sectors of society.
Tuesday’s celebration also included panel discussions on a range of topics, including: enhancing women’s economic empowerment, women’s leadership, women’s political participation and empowering women through inter-generational dialogue.
Julia Duncan Cassell, minister of gender, children and social protection, said the 2017 Women’s Colloquium was a reflection on the accomplishments since 2009, and develop strategies in the context of the sustainable development goals.
“There are millions of women around the world who are still speechless,” Duncan Cassell said. “There’s a need to promote women’s participation in networking, political participation, entrepreneurship, among others.”
Also speaking was Ms. Maria Teresa Fernandes De La Vega, former deputy prime minister and minister of the presidency, Kingdom of Spain.
De La Vega praised President Sirleaf for her role in maintaining peace in Liberia and improving women’s participation in politics.
“Liberian women are striving to have a good country in terms of peace and stability,” she said. “President Sirleaf has worked tirelessly to ensure that through her leadership rural women will have access to education and entrepreneurship.”
Donatille Mukabalisa, speaker of the Chamber of Deputies of the Rwanda Parliament, called Madam Sirleaf, “the pride of Africa.”
Liberia and all of Africa must work to remove the barriers that prevent women from participating in all sectors of society, she said.
“The role of women in society is unquestionable,” Mukabalisa said.
Meanwhile Kollie said she was glad to participate in the event celebrating her and other women who have benefitted from initiatives aimed at improving the lives of rural women.
Kollie said she was recruited for the literacy program while selling her bitterballs and pepper in the market. She signed up for classes after she heard about it. She wowed the crowd when she told them a story about how her illiteracy embarrassed her while campaigning for Sirleaf in 2005.
When she went to register to vote, the election official asked for her thumb. “I thought he was talking about my tongue,” Kollie said, laughing with the crowd as she stuck out her tongue.
“With all the challenges I faced, I never thought of going to school one day in my life,” she said. “But I took advantage of the opportunity because some of my friends who could read and write were bluffing me. Now, I can spell my name, my father’s name and my children’s names. Now, I can speak before great people like the president who worked to strengthen me so I can realize my dream.”
The literacy program at the Angie Brooks Center began with 30 students in 2016. Today, 75 students are enrolled, said Counselor Yvette Chesson-Wureh, the center’s coordinator.
The goal is to develop literacy centers in other parts of the country.
“There are other women out there whose skills need to be developed and when they are empowered through these trainings and provided the necessarily tools, it would contribute to the Liberian economy and have more women representation in higher positions of government,” she said.