Have Our SHEROES Failed Us?

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“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

It is said the strength of a building lies in its foundation. The foundation serves to hold the structure above it upright and strong to withstand calamities. This truism applies also to Philanthropic foundations. They must be built on a core of strong principles and values, else they last only for a while and it is just a matter of time before the entire organization comes crashing down.

For the purpose of this Editorial, a Foundation is also a charitable foundation, nonprofit in nature, which will, under normal circumstances either donate funds and support to other organizations or provide the source of funding for its own charitable purposes. Many examples abound in history of foundations created by a range of individuals running a gamut from politicians to business executives and private individuals of every color and hue.

In the history of our dear country Liberia, there is evidence of foundations founded by former presidents and others. Perhaps the best known amongst these foundations is that named after Liberia’s first President, Joseph Jenkins Roberts and it is called the JJ Roberts Foundation. President Roberts, over is life time acquired properties which he bequeathed to posterity for the education of Liberian children. The Trust, which is managed by the United Methodist Church has over the years been providing educational scholarships to Liberian children.

Other humanitarian foundations created by former Liberian Presidents include the Charles Ghankay Taylor Humanitarian Foundation, the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Market Women Fund and the Liberia Educational Trust. Even the President’s son Robert Sirleaf established his foundation the Robert A. Sirleaf, Foundation. Since these individuals left office, their Foundations have virtually folded up or died naturally.

President Sirleaf’s election as Africa’s first female president inspired a host of philanthropic organizations and individuals to support her reform agenda rooted in what she dubbed the “Poverty Reduction Strategy”, intended to lift Liberians out of poverty. Towards this end, grant-making foundations stepped up to the plate and financed the establishment of a Philanthropy Secretariat within President Sirleaf’s office with a mandate to coordinate their investments in support of Liberia’s reform agenda.

But just how much money was raised under this umbrella remains unclear, just as how much ended up in the coffers of the Liberia Educational Trust. Neither is it clear what form and level of support it provided to young aspiring Liberian women. The story is told of a young Liberian female, Pamela Moore, now an intern doctor at a Catholic Hospital in Accra who applied to the Liberia Educational Trust (LET) for financial support to complete her medical studies at the University of Science and Technology (UST) in Kumasi, Ghana.

Pamela had previously graduated with an honors degree in chemistry from the Cuttington University College and was hopeful of studying at the A.M. Dogliotti Medical School. But she was forced to leave the country due to the 2003 fighting in Monrovia. Her family fled to Ghana where she enrolled at the UST. Being unable to pay the 8,000 US dollars school fees to complete her studies, Pamela travelled to Monrovia to make a plea for assistance directly to the founder of the Educational Trust, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

President Sirleaf turned down her request and reportedly responded, telling her to return home to complete her studies at the [Dogliotti] Medical school. Pamela was rejected though, but however not dejected by such let down. Ironically at about the same time, the government was spending thousands of dollars to bring home the nephew of the President, a young boy barely out of high school, to address a NOCAL forum here in Monrovia.

Undaunted, Pamela’s family and relatives rallied to her assistance, selling whatever valuables they possessed to raise the money to settle their daughter’s fees. Pamela has since graduated with a medical degree and is about to complete her internship as a Pediatrician. She plans to return home to serve her people.

In Monrovia, Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor will, this week be launching her Foundation as part of celebrations marking SHEROES Week. Expected to be in attendance is Liberia’s first Lady, Clar Weah who has also established a foundation of her own and has announced a fund-raising goal of 10 million US dollars. Also expected to attend is former President Ellen Sirleaf whose Ellen Johnson Market Women Fund and Liberia Educational Trust have since appeared to have fallen into the doldrums.

Other than the grandstanding and “feel good talk”, what outcomes is this Sheroes forum expected to produce? According to media accounts, the International SHEROES Foundation of Africa has described Liberia as a star of the upcoming SHEROES Forum because the country has produced a female president and vice president from two political parties.

As it appears, our SHEROES have failed us. On the one hand and under the watch of our SHEROE, Nobel Laureate and first female President in Africa, nepotism and cronyism thrived while corruption spun out of control thus undermining her flagship, the Poverty Reduction Strategy. She has since been linked to the case of the missing billions of printed currency banknotes.

On the other hand also, is our new SHEROE, first elected female Vice President in Africa whose unabashed and unrestrained comments, “Da our Time to Eat” left no doubts as to what she meant. As former President Sirleaf once said, “Liberia is not a poor country. It is a country that has been managed poorly.” And our SHEROES have played no insignificant part in this leaving us to ask thus, Have our SHEROES failed us?

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