These were the words with which American First Lady Michelle Obama challenged Liberian girls during her seven-hour visit to Liberia on Monday.
The First Lady was accompanied by her two daughters, Malia and Sasha Obama, and her mother, Mrs. Marian Robinson.
Mrs. Obama and her delegation were accompanied to Kakata and Smell-No-Taste by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who herself has a passion for girls’ education.
The American First Lady, during her visit, announced that the United States was giving Liberia a grant of US$27 million for girls’ education. According to our diplomatic correspondent, Joachim Sendolo, the money will be provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and channeled through the U.S. Peace Corp in Liberia, to initiate educational programs for girls under the umbrella of Mrs. Obama’s “Girls Leading Our World” (GLOW) organization.
The amount is intended to provide quality education for rural girls and women in post-Ebola Liberia, and to help fight gender-based violence. It will also address curriculum development and training of teachers to create optimal conditions for girls to acquire quality education.
Speaking at the Peace Corps headquarters in Kakata, Mrs. Obama astounded her audience when she informed them about the staggering statistic that 62 million girls across the globe “are not in school. “How,” she wondered, “can we sit by in the United States with all the resources and not attend to the educational needs of suffering women and girls? We have to change the cultural practice that girls should not go to school,” she insisted.
She urged girls to pursue secondary and university education and challenged them to “Keep going to school and don’t drop.”
We highly commend and thank Mrs. Obama for this laudable initiative to come to our continent at this time for the sole purpose of promoting girls’ education. They say you educate a boy, you educate an individual; you educate a girl, you educate a nation. How true! Most of the people who send and support our children in school are women, most especially market women, but also poor women, who make great sacrifices to keep their children in school.
We pray that the US$27 million will go a long way to enroll and keep Liberian girls in school. Our first question is: Which girls will this money benefit? We are hoping that it will not only benefit the girls already in school. Also to be remembered for this wonderful opportunity are our girls selling ‘chicklet,’ cornbread, cooked food, fruits, water, etc., on the streets of Monrovia and other capitals around the country, including Kakata and Smell-No-Taste, and in the overcrowded marketplaces of Paynesville Red Light, Douala and Waterside. These children sell all day and late into the night.
We propose that the grant be used to get ALL school age children off the streets and into the classroom. With funding and a well thought out strategy, we can take these underprivileged and education deprived youths off the streets and require their parents and guardians to enroll them in school.
We wholeheartedly agree that the funds be managed by the Peace Corp, for far too often such funds put in the hands of Liberians are misappropriated or outright squandered. Nevertheless, we hope that most of this money – US$27 million – will not ‘return to sender’ in the USA in salaries and allowances for Peace Corps Volunteers and other “experts,” as is the case with so much of the donor money sent to Africa and other developing regions. In the final analysis, when the accounting is done, most of the money goes right back to where it came from.
We hope further that some of that money will go toward sensitizing our men and boys. This is because their support is needed to keep girls in school. It would be worthwhile to include in all school curricular a section that instills manly responsibilities, ethics, hard work and most importantly, respect for and protection of women and their rights so that our young men may grow up to be responsible citizens with a strong commitment to family, society and country.
We wish Mrs. Obama and her entourage safe and successful travels to Morocco, Spain and back home to the United States.