The Youth Exploring Solutions (YES), an accredited non-profit grassroots, youth-led development organization, over the weekend conducted the second edition of its Speak Out Girls’ Speech Competition.
The event took place at Jimmy Jolocon High School situated along the Somalia Drive and brought together 25 contestants from 15 secondary schools in Gardnersville Township. Sweden’s Ambassador Lena Nordström delivered the keynote address.
Mrs. Ciata Armah Stevens, Assistant Minister and Special Assistant to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, alongside Mrs. Florence Gbagbe-Dukuly, Deputy Director for Administration of the Liberia Institute for Public Administration, urged the girls to believe in themselves and to prioritize education. Other guests included Madam Elizabeth Dolo, Program Officer of Kvinna till Kvinna, and parents of the contestants.
Ambassador Nordström recounted her early childhood desire to speak out and narrated how she won a speech competition at the age of eight. The Swedish Ambassador outlined tips on public speaking and urged girls not to be ashamed to speak out anywhere they find themselves.
The Swedish diplomat admonished girls to find their voices and speak out on issues affecting them without fear or favor. “You don’t have to be silent on issues that are affecting you or hindering you from achieving your dream and aspiration. You need to believe in yourself and work towards everything you want to accomplish in life. Everything wouldn’t be easy, but your desire to succeed must be unending,” she said.
Mr. Stephen B. Lavalah, founder and executive director of YES, revealed that the Liberian society places extra burdens on girls. “Girls are often responsible to draw water, prepare breakfast, get the children ready for school, clean the home, wash the dishes and make up the beds before ever thinking about going to school in the morning. Right after school, they have to pass in the market to buy food, hurry home to cook, wash the clothes, and pick up their siblings from school,” he noted.
The youth leader disclosed that many people in Liberia instill fear in girls from reaching their full potential, while some people encourage girls to be breadwinners for the family. A considerable number of people simply fail to provide girls with similar opportunities like they do for boys, he added
Lavalah has proposed the passage of a legislation that calls for free education for girls across the country, instead of a Gender Parity bill. According to him, the Gender Parity Bill will only create jobs for a handful of educated women and girls who may be desperate for political power. However, he wants proponents of the bill to direct their energy to addressing the educational and economic needs of women and girls.
“With free education for girls, our girls’ minds will be developed to compete with boys. They will become engineers to connect our roads and bridges, doctors to take care of the sick, agriculturalists to help us grow our own food, business tycoons and entrepreneurs to enable us to compete and surpass foreign businesses, and educators to ensure no child is left behind,” he said.
Mrs. Florence Gbagbe-Dukuly, Deputy Director for Administration of the Liberia Institute for Public Administration, outlined challenges facing girls in Liberia and offered solutions to curtailing them. She stressed the need for girls to take their education very seriously in order to be competitive in the future.
In remarks, Madam Elizabeth Dolo, Program Officer of Kvinna till Kvinna, pointed out that the Speak Out Girls’ Speech Competition enhances the capacity of girls to promote their self-worth, sense of belonging and resilience.
“We believe that girls have a unique ability to change the lives of those around them once they are given the opportunity to become involved in activities that enhance their competencies, connections, character, confidence, self-esteem and contribution to society” she said.
The chief judge, Emmanuel Dolaken, announced the results of the competition. Student J. Blio Brownell, 18, of the Seventh Day Adventist Revelation High School senior class, who spoke on early marriage, won the first place prize of L$35, 000.
Senior student D. Sarah M. Sumo, also of the Seventh Day Adventist Revelation High School, walked away with the second place prize of L$15,000. Her speech centered on teenage pregnancy. 16-year-old Linda M. Pratt of the Jimmy Jolocon High School’s junior class earned the third place prize of L$10,000 after her speech on girls and education.
Speak Out Girls’ Speech Competition is designed to harness the enthusiasm, imagination and innovation of girls in order to lend their voices to issues affecting them and provide amicable solutions. It also aims to facilitate a unique platform that deepens girls’ understanding about personality development skills such as self-awareness, self-confidence, self-esteem, problem-solving and persuasive skills.