After 169 Years, Citizens Take 1st Step to Freedom

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On July 26, 2016, Liberia will be celebrating 169 years of freedom. Unlike the past tradition of pomp and pageantry that accompanied July 26 Celebrations, the 2016 independence celebration was cancelled from its original venue due to “lack of money” due to bad road conditions (in the South Eastern Liberia), where the celebration was scheduled to have been held. Aside from the government’s stated lack of money due to “budget shortfalls,” the citizens of Liberia, Africa’s oldest republic, are facing extreme difficulties struggling to make ends meet.

The rate of the US dollar to the Liberian dollar is rising. Unemployment is skyrocketing. 83% of Liberians are stuck in poverty, living on less than US$1.25 a day. The price of Liberia’s exports, rubber and Iron ore are falling on the world market, forcing mining companies to lay off workers. The outrageously high salaries of government officials are fueling the rise of ritualistic killings. In Nimba County alone, 17 Liberians have fallen prey to ritualistic killing, including a five year old girl, prompting Nimba Senator Thomas Grupee to call for reinstatement of capital punishment.

In the midst of all of Liberia’s woes, a new pilot program has been launched, and is believed could be the solution to Liberia’s chronic economic problems. The program is the Citizens Independence Initiative. If American citizens from the leading democracy on earth are using a program called Family Independence Initiative (FII) to get their citizens out of poverty, Liberia, the 4th poorest country on earth, needs a similar program to help Liberians rise above poverty. There is evidence that shows that 47 million Americans are stuck in poverty, and therefore it’s clear that democracy does not guarantee prosperity; it guarantees security, justice and equal opportunities. Waiting for government is a waste of time. Citizens in democratic societies must rise up and begin working for economic prosperity. That is why the Citizens Independence Initiative (CII) in Liberia was launched.

The Citizen’s Independence Initiative (CII) is a program created by the refugee-support group YOUNG-Africa Inc. and Universal Human Rights International (UHRI). The program aims to provide a platform through which Liberian families can increase their access to capital, expand their network and improve upward economic mobility by working with other Liberian families within their own community. The CII program is modelled on the Family Independence Initiative (FII) program, which has been active in the United States for many years, and hopes to replicate the success the FII program has experienced working to alleviate poverty in the U.S.

The FII program was really the first of its kind, and provides poverty stricken families in America with support in more ways than one. Chrismandili Vasquez, the executive director of the FII program in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, explains that the FII program creates a platform through which American families can support each-other and work together to increase social mobility and escape the cycle of poverty many lower-income families find themselves in. Essentially, she explains that, “FII’s role is to learn from what families are doing, invest in their approaches and find ways to increase mobility.” For many refugee families living in the US, the FII program provides a much-needed source of hope and positivity in an otherwise challenging situation.

Emmanuel T. Gaye, son of Pastor Edwin Gbor, and his family are former Liberian refugees, who returned from Ghana and are now spearheading the CII program in Ganta, Nimba County. Gaye believes assistance and support in transitioning to life in Liberia can be a success if CII is embraced by all Liberians.

The family has encountered financial hardship; but in-spite of the hardship, he is bringing hope to residents of Ganta through pioneering education and community development. With CII, Gaye believes the program can provide more than a short-term fix. “We want to establish independence” he explains, and “hope to achieve economic mobility and prosperity we envisioned here in Liberia,” as well as security, confidence and guidance in their everyday lives. Many people like Gaye have already participated in the CII program – launched recently in Ganta – and its universal values, which include the strength of the family and community and the need for trust between community members that will have many positive effects in Liberia. With the trust and support of the CII program, poor Liberian citizens will be able to pull themselves out of poverty and establish both security and economic upward mobility.

These effects are what we hope to replicate in Liberia with the Citizens Independence Initiative. Many of the safety nets which exist in the U.S., where FII originated, are not present in Liberia; and it can be very challenging for Liberian citizens to move up the social and economic ladder. Despite this, Ms. Vasquez believes that the “universal values of families wanting to help each other and share resources are absolutely applicable across borders,” and that the FII model can be successfully adapted in other countries outside of the US.

CII aims to provide Liberian citizens and their families with a platform they can use to work together and achieve economic prosperity and results they might not have been able to, waiting for politicians or on their own, and tap into the strength of the community. The program focuses on bringing communities together through nationwide civil education (radio broadcasts), inclusion of civic education in the religious curriculum of churches and mosques while also providing communities with access to connections, capital and resources, including computers as a means of increasing economic mobility and self-education, and even telecommuting to jobs. The power of improved community strength and the ingenuity of people working together to help one-another should not be underestimated.

About the author: Rev. Torli H. Krua is the founder of Universal Human Rights International (UHRI) and YOUNG-Africa INC and also a fellow of Family Independence Initiative (FII), a program designed to help 47 million Americans get out of poverty.

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