Do You Love Liberia?

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Address By Ophelia Inez Weeks, Ph.D., Dean & Professor, T. J. R. Faulkner College of Science and Technology, University of Liberia at the Commencement of the 59th Graduating Class of the Tubman National Institute of Medical Arts (TNIMA), held at the Monrovia Christian Fellowship Building, 9th Street, Sinkor, Monrovia, Liberia, 10:00 AM, Saturday, December 28th, 2013

Members of the JFK Medical Center Board of Directors; Faculty, Staff and Students of TNIMA; The JFK Medical Center Family; Ministers and Officials of Government;

Development Partners; Family and Friends of TNIMA Graduates; Members of the Media;

Distinguished Guests; Fellow Liberians; …And most especially, Graduates:

Thank you for your invitation, and for affording me the opportunity to say a few words to this 2013 graduating class of the Tubman National Institute of Medical Arts. As Dean of the T. J. R. Faulkner College of Science and Technology at the University of Liberia, I would be remiss if I did not first bring you greetings from the College, as well as take this opportunity to acquaint you with the college.

The T. J. R. Faulkner College of Science and Technology at the University of Liberia consists of an Engineering Division that includes Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Mining Engineering & Geology Departments.  The College also has a Natural Science Division that houses Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology Departments. Our primary focus is to provide basic training in engineering and the natural sciences, bearing in mind that science and engineering are critical drivers of a nation’s development.  As do most, if not all institutions of learning in Liberia today, we too face many challenges in our efforts to provide science and technology education in post-war Liberia. Largely because of limited facilities such as laboratories, libraries, and inadequate telecommunications, as well as inadequate access to the Internet, which can provide access to educational tools and teaching materials. These challenges indicate that there is an immediate need to upgrade and add to existing facilities and infrastructure, and provide students and faculty with requisite resources needed to support the socio-economic development of Liberia.  I hope that we all realize this (…and, I sincerely hope that relevant members of the legislature realize this too) that together, we must put all of our collective energy toward developing science & technology institutions that will drive Liberia’s development, relevant to the 21st century.  Students, this requires that you put in the time to study and to learn, in order to acquire the skills that are needed to build the Liberia of your dreams, rather than destructively and aimlessly following anyone who yells the loudest, without thought or constructive purpose.  It takes no time to destroy, but a lifetime may be required to rebuild.

On Monday, December 16th, I was asked to deliver your keynote address and I agreed without hesitation.  Three days passed by, and it was while I was socializing with friends on that Friday evening/early morning that a statement entered the conversation. It was a passing statement, but one that resonated with me. I have converted that statement into a question, and so this morning/today, I am challenging each of you with that question …DYLL?

“Do You Love Liberia?”

I have been a faculty member in a university setting now for over 28 years.  At the beginning of each semester, for each of my courses, I start off by informing students that my responsibility to them as an instructor, as a professor, is to provide them with concepts, examples and mechanisms for understanding the course material.  It is then their responsibility as students to put in the study time to understand the concepts and ultimately to learn the material.  And over the years, I have come to realize that I should always present material in the simplest possible manner to ensure that as many students as possible leave the classroom with a basic understanding.  I tell my students that lecture material will be presented as simply as possible, and that they can make the material as complicated as they want.  So this morning/today, my message to you is simple, and I am challenging you with a very simple question.

“Do You Love Liberia?”

When you love someone or something, how do you express your love? What do you do? You cherish, you protect, you honor, you do everything in your power to sustain, for as long as you can, that which you love.  You don’t want it/him/her to leave, and you want nothing to harm that which you love.  You want your loved one to shine, you want to make sure everyone envies you because of the good thing you have.  You want your loved one to grow and to prosper.

If you love Liberia, show it. Show it in everything you do, via every fiber of your being, because that is what it will take, from each of us to make Liberia what it can be! And how do you make this happen? Service is one simple example of how you can.  Love can be shown and expressed in many ways (giving of your time, taking action, its not only big things that count, sometimes, the small things count even more); and so can service because of our many perspectives, exposures, training, and economic standing.  For example, taking an extra 5 minutes to talk with a patient; making an extra effort to get to work, when you know most will not because of the rain, staying a little longer, even though your shift is up, but you know it will make a world of difference to your patient; taking the initiative to organize some of your peers on projects that could be beneficial to your community.

Today, you are 112 trained candidates who will be receiving diplomas, and who represent the 59th graduating class of TNIMA.  TNIMA was established in 1945 through a cooperative and joint effort of the Liberian National Public Health Services now the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, and the United States Mission. At the time there were two training programs for nurses: practical and professional nursing, which were merged, and other health related programs, like the Medical Laboratory Program. TNIMA was named in honor of the presiding President, William V. S. Tubman. Seven (7) years later, in 1952, a 2-year Midwifery Program was established which later began a 3-year program; and with the assistance of the WHO, a one-year School of Sanitation was added later that year.  Nine (9) years later in 1961, a two-year Environmental Health program evolved. The Environmental Health Program is now a 3-year program. In 1965, with the assistance of WHO and UNICEF, a one-year Physician Assistant Program was launched.  It is now a 3-year program.

For me, I am very passionate about service, especially service to Liberia. Two principle tenets drive this passion: my upbringing, and the educational foundation I received in Liberia. This is because the person that I am today is largely molded by the core moral values, and sense of responsibility instilled in me by my family, and the educational foundation I received within the educational system of Liberia, and its societal framework. My primary education was received at B. W. Payne Kindergarten located on Camp Johnson Road & Benson Street, at Monrovia Demonstration Elementary School on Clay Street, and at St. Teresa’s Convent.  My secondary education was at the College of West Africa, where I graduated from high school in 1968. My tertiary education began at the University of Liberia.  While that was then, and under very different circumstances and conditions, it is all the more reason why today, in Liberia, there should be an uncompromising, unrelenting, no-holds-barred-approach to education, including vocational education. As the second eldest, of many siblings, I grew up right here in Monrovia. What’s important to note, is that while growing-up, our parents made sure that each one of us had chores and responsibilities, including older siblings being responsible for younger siblings. When I think back to this time in my life as a pre-teen and teenager, when I was responsible for making sure that my sister who is 8 years my junior, had brushed her teeth and was properly dressed and on time for school, and likewise for older brothers being responsible for our younger brothers, I am convinced that this very idea of being responsible for another human being at a young age, has contributed largely to our sense of community, and duty to responsible service.  I would like for you to recall TNIMA’s Motto: “Responding Responsibly to Responsibility”

I ask you again, DYLL, Do You Love Liberia? Now, I would like for you to personalize the question and ask yourself “Do I Love Liberia?”  What am I going to do to show my love for my country?

The education and training that we receive does not prepare us for today; our training, our preparation is a promise for tomorrow, the Liberia of tomorrow.

No matter how wealthy, how prosperous you are, enjoyment of that wealth, or productive expression of that wealth is stifled/hampered if you are sick.  For Liberia to be prosperous, we need a patriotic, educated and healthy society. You are now part of the response to the mandate of the Tubman National Institute of Medical Arts…. to produce Para-medical health workers who are well trained to contribute their quota in the health care delivery system of Liberia.  As you step out to provide service to Liberia, let discipline, honesty, trustworthiness, compassion, and patriotism be your guideposts.

Today, TNIMA is producing 42 additional Professional (Registered) Nurses that originate from many regions of Liberia. Consider making a contribution in your home region, not only in Monrovia.  Remember what you learned; that a professional nurse uses compassion, care, and intelligence to attend to patients of all ages. As a Professional Nurse, you are a caregiver, educator, manager, and patient advocate. You work to promote health and prevent disease. When illness occurs, you assist your patients and their families by providing physical care, emotional support, and education. You perform assessments, document care, assist with diagnostic tests, administer treatments and medications, monitor advanced technology and equipment, and participate in patient follow-up and rehabilitation. As a professional nurse you are a vital member of Liberia’s healthcare team. Show how much you love Liberia. Serve her well.

Today, TNIMA is producing 33 additional Physician Assistants.  What will your contribution be?  How will you show that you love Liberia? The Liberian Physician Assistant Program was established largely for the development of health workers for the rural areas of Liberia where you practice medicine with a physician’s supervision and bring a range of knowledge and skills to patient care. And, as a Physician Assistant you function as an integral member of the health care delivery team, interacting professionally and respectfully with others, seeking help or guidance when needed, modeling ethical standards and working together with others for the benefit of patients. You inspire others through word and deed, and give selflessly of your time and talent to serve the community and the Physician Assistant profession.  Show how much you love Liberia. Serve her well.

Today, TNIMA is producing an additional 17 Midwives who are professionally trained with the hope that each of you, as a health care professional, will provide care to women during pregnancy, labor, and the postpartum period, as well as care to the newborn. You are expected to take measures to prevent health problems in pregnancy, to detect abnormal conditions, get medical assistance when necessary, and perform emergency measures in the absence of other medical help. Show how much you love Liberia. Serve her well.

Today, TNIMA is producing 11 additional professionally trained Laboratory Technicians.  You are expected to work very hard behind the scenes. You serve as an important link in the framework of hospitals and clinics, because you conduct the crucial tests and analyses that physicians use to make their diagnoses. As medical laboratory technicians you are responsible for a number of tasks, including examining seemingly mundane things like body fluids and cells and matching blood for transfusions, potential life or death tasks. Most times, your job requires the use of sophisticated laboratory equipment, and with continued advancements in technology, your work is becoming more and more analytical. Therefore, the expectation is that you should have excellent judgment skills. Show how much you love Liberia. Serve her well.

Today, TNIMA is producing 9 additional Environmental Health Professionals.  What will you do to proactively educate the Liberian population?  It’s been more than 60 years now since the School of Environmental Health was established, but many of Liberia's common illnesses (like typhoid fever, malaria, diarrhea) are still a result of poor sanitation and poor hygiene. What will you do differently to help end this? It’s no secret that poor sanitation & hygiene have far-reaching effects… increased likelihood of sickness, even body odor issues. How productive can a person be when he or she is sick?  With limited access to preventative and curative healthcare, a minor illness can evolve into a major sickness. How will that person access or keep a job if his or her mere presence in a room is offensive? …All of these factors contribute to being successful in developing the workforce, the human capacity aspect of a nation…the building of a nation.  Show how much you love Liberia. Serve her well.

I am asking these health care professionals to show that they love Liberia by serving Liberia well. Yet, love is not a one-way street.  Love is a two-way street. The powers-that-be must realize that our health care professionals must be sufficiently compensated for the important work that they do.  Sufficient compensation suggests appreciation for this vital segment of our society, serves as incentive for others to consider health care professions as viable career choices and life’s work options, and in turn helps to reduce the huge human resource deficit that Liberia currently has in its health care delivery system.  Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, and our Civil Service Agency, show that you love Liberia, compensate our health care professionals well.

Let me conclude with a reminder that all Liberians, including Members of the JFK Medical Center Board of Directors, Faculty, Staff and Students of TNIMA, JFK Medical Center Family, Ministers and Officials of Government, Members of the Senate, Legislature and Judiciary, Family and Friends of TNIMA Graduates, Members of the Media; that overall, we all need to come together, and move away from the “Business as Usual” Modus Operandi where corruption without consequences is manifested through continual stealing, lying, cheating, bribery, and dishonesty…  We need to move away from where malfeasance (doing something that is wrong), misfeasance (doing something that is right for the wrong reasons) and nonfeasance (doing nothing when you should do something), live large! Absolutely none of these does anything for advancing and developing Liberia.

Graduates, malfeasance (doing something that is wrong), misfeasance (doing something that is right for the wrong reasons) and nonfeasance (doing nothing when you should do something), all do nothing for advancing and developing Liberia, please do not serve as perpetrators, or succumb to these destructive forces.  Prolonged conflict, as is the case during wartime, is characterized by limited oversight and accountability, and consequently, a breakdown in cultural & societal mores.  Why? It usually is because of the need to survive, at the exclusion of everything else.  During wartime, it comes as no surprise that only “today” matters because tomorrow is not promised.  Therefore, over a protracted period, the abnormal becomes the normal. But we are no longer at war, and these aberrant practices should not continue; we can each do our part to stop this madness.

When each of us puts our individual “I love Liberia” effort into a collective basket, the outcome becomes “We Love Liberia”, and our individual acts become a collective reality.  This kind of potential reality is epitomized in the 2nd stanza of our national anthem:

“…In union strong success is sure. We cannot fail! With God above, our rights to prove,

We will over all prevail. We will over all prevail. With heart and hand our country’s cause defending, We’ll meet the foe with valour unpretending. Long live Liberia…” I LOVE LIBERIA. DO YOU LOVE LIBERIA? Thank you.

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