From Peddler to Degree Holder: How Pauline Wlati Nagbe Demonstrates Possibilities

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It was a picturesque scene on Tuesday, April 21st when one of Liberia’s prime and prestigious institutions of topnotch education, United Methodist University, graduated five hundred and fifty one Liberians in various disciplines.  Facial smiles, joyful tears, and blissful contentment characterized the commencement convocation as relatives, friends, well wishers and a host of dignitaries rose to the occasion.  In spite of intermittent rainfall, the weather was sunny.  Cool breeze blew across from the Atlantic Ocean while the fresh air from the mangroves floated.  The beautiful landscape and portrait within the statuesque and historic Unity Conference Center ideally located in Virginia City was a perfect match for such ceremony.   

For many of the graduates, the road to achieving this milestone did not come on a silver platter, rather through diligence, dedication and deportment.  The struggle for tuition and other fees, tussle for transportation and bank payment, as well as jostle for registration and competing priorities still remain memorable.  Thus, each graduate has a unique story that marked the beginning of their amazing journey towards earning the rights and privileges as a degree holder. 

It is here and now that I would like to share a humble story about one of the graduates, Pauline Wlati Nagbe, who walked away with a degree of Bachelor of Business Administration in Management. As Founder and Executive Director of a leading grassroots, voluntary driven, and accredited youth-led development organization, Youth Exploring Solutions, I have a great pleasure working with young people all over Liberia towards making people problem solvers as well as tolerant and critical thinkers in the areas of sustainable development, environmental conservation, human rights, education, health and agriculture. However, I have rarely been as impressed or inspired as I am with Pauline Wlati Nagbe.  I believe she is a super star. 

There are few people that I have met who possess the ability to motivate positive change, inspire young people, motivate women, and who have also overcome exceptional odds by living and growing up in a country torn apart by fourteen years of intermittent Civil War.  I have known Pauline, personally and professionally, for about three years and I must confess that she is among the most capable and talented volunteers of our organization.  She represents a group of young professionals unrivaled in resourcefulness, tenacity, and creativity. 

Pauline stands among her peers for many reasons. She began her tertiary education through a simple call on the famous JKB Night Show hosted by J. Kolva Beyan of Truth FM.  On the show, Pauline highlighted her eagerness to wash and iron clothes for anyone who was willing to assist her acquired higher education.  Fortunately, that very night, she received calls from some listeners pledging support.  Among the many that made generous contribution was Dr. Julius S. Nelson of the University of Liberia who encouraged and provided opportunity to wash and iron clothes in return for scholarship to attend United Methodist University. 

For only one semester, Pauline benefited from Dr. Nelson’s benevolent succor.  Howbeit, Pauline refused to be left behind.   She mustered the courage and used challenges as the stepping stones towards achieving her ultimate desirous outcome.  Pauline began to mobilize, organize, and plan innovative approaches to expand her network.  Luckily, she built a wonderful rapport with some staff members of the National Port Authority and eventually obtained a part-time job as a Tally Clerk assigned on a ship.  Pauline utilized remuneration from the job to settle tuition and other arrears in addition to take care of basis needs and sustain her family.   Her ability to continue her academic sojourn did not cease despite being affected by downsizing exercise and subsequent termination of contract. 

Through the depths of disappointment and discontentment, Pauline nurtured her character, and embraced a life of service to others. She spent one year serving as a Community Based Enterprise Marketing Assistant at Monrovia City Corporation, where she encouraged many people to create community based enterprises in an endeavor to collect solid waste from the community.  In essence, Pauline put her boots on the ground and led a team of diverse multicultural backgrounds to engage, educate and empower young Liberians to become entrepreneurs in the area of solid waste management.  Again, she used compensation from the contract to pay her fees and look after her family.

Pauline’s involvement in Youth Exploring Solutions came as a result of a mentorship program organized to train emerging leaders. From there, she expressed interest and continued to work for the organization.  Her contribution in our organization has been beyond our expectations, and she has played crucial role in helping us develop, implement, and design educational and outreach programs in the areas of women’s leadership, gender issues, girls’ mentorship, early childhood education and social justice.  She is the brain behind our Girls’ Mentorship Club, Reading Enrichment Program, and Women’s Leadership and Governance Project.  Moreover, Pauline has developed additional programs in accordance with Youth Exploring Solutions strategic action plan for 2015 which include, but not limited to:  Speak Out Girls Panel, Young Women’s Speech Competition, as well as Giving Women Voices project.  Her experience, wisdom, and professionalism have been a delight for our board, staff, and volunteers to be around. 

Because Pauline is a 100% volunteer who have not received any stipend from Youth Exploring Solutions that is primarily self-supported, she decided to do something uncanny as a graduating senior in order to liquidate her arrears and care for her family.  She refused to just complain, but decided on an appropriate course of action.  Late one night, she called me and said “Stephen, I have made up my mind to start selling doughnut in Red-light Market.”  It was a complete disbelief for a senior student at United Methodist University to peddle doughnuts in the bustling and teeming Red-light Market.  To my greatest surprise, I saw Pauline selling doughnuts the next morning.  Pauline managed to put aside shame and refused to worry about perception emanating from other people.  She was gradually able to scale up the quantity of doughnut sales and began to save some of her profits.  Eventually, Pauline settled her tuition as well as paid some graduation requirement fees.  Due to the success of the doughnut business, she has begun providing doughnut catering service for small workshops.  Pauline also uses personal scarce resources to support Youth Exploring Solutions and lend her voice to making people achieve their full potential and measure of happiness in aspirating for a better future.

Having seen Pauline’s work first hand for the last three years, I am certain that she is capable of doing anything she puts her mind to.  She is a quick learner and most importantly a moral human with a heart full of compassion for people, and the challenges that face them in the 21st Century.  Indeed, Liberia is lucky to have such an inspiring young woman possessing such brilliance and determination to make the World a better place.

From the Xenophobia attack in South Africa, to the rising death toll of African migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, to the capture of school girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria, to post Ebola recovery in the hardest-hit countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, Pauline story resonates that good things can come from Africa’s oldest republic despite enormous challenges.  It teaches us to look inward and believe in ourselves, and as well demonstrates that possibilities are endless in post-conflict Liberia in spite of overwhelming difficulties.   It edifies us not to give up in life, but look for opportunities in the midst of crises.

Now is the time to hold the ladder for Pauline to climb up to success.  The time has come to give Pauline the opportunity and platform to excel in every aspect.  From this moment onward, let us show to Pauline that she deserves a decent job, a country that cares, and a citizenry that appreciates her quest to acquire education, thirst for quality life, and passion to serve humanity.  

About the author:  Mr.  Stephen B. Lavalah is an advocate and the Founder & Executive Director of Youth Exploring Solutions (YES), a passionate, non-profit and voluntary grassroots accredited youth-led development organization. For more information about YES’ work in Liberia, please visit http://www.liberiayes.org.   

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