In Defense of Jewel Starfish Foundation

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By James Chester Flahn

It was Mother Teresa who once said: “At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.”

As we all know, Mother Theresa was one of the greatest givers in history, even though she herself always lacked all the basic necessities of life. But unlike Mother Theresa who was poor yet gave her last to charity, many of us who have made it in life see charity as a taboo. Most especially when we are politicians. During elections we come promising heaven to the voters, but as soon as we win, we shut our doors to those that voted us into office. Community service becomes a no-go area. The welfare of the citizens is dashed by the sidewalk.

But then comes Jewel Howard Taylor, a new breed of politician who sees politics as a bridge between the people and public service. Not your run-of-the-mill politician, the daughter of a market woman, Jewel is today successful in life because she continues to put her promises to work. The education of Liberian children, most especially the girls, has always been a passion for Jewel, even before she became Vice President of the Republic of Liberia. And like Mother Theresa, Jewel made a commitment about 20 years ago, when she had not reached the peak of her achievements, to remain a provider for girls’ education in Liberia in order to bring about positive social change.

“Over the years, this journey has enabled girls in difficult circumstances and in dire poverty to be afforded a chance to be educated. This opportunity has brought optimism to each beneficiary and their families,” Jewel told her audience recently during launch of the Jewel Starfish Foundation in Monrovia.

Jewel herself has been providing assistance for thousands of females over the past 20 years through scholarships, economic empowerment and mentoring programs, having realized that girls education was key to national peace, security and development.

Over the years, thousands of young school girls from 11 of the 15 have directly benefited from Jewel’s philanthropy, with the exception of Maryland, Grand Kru, River Gee and Grand Gedeh whose assistance program are being finalized. A cursory summary of the Jewel Starfish Beneficiaries across Liberia shows that the charity has made direct payments amounting to US$45,633.67 and LD3,117,930.00 towards this endeavor.

Beneficiaries’ Testimonials

Mrs. Gamae Zephyr Colnoe is one of the many beneficiaries of the Jewel Starfish Foundation who truly appreciates the impact the foundation has made in her life. “I became Jewel Starfish beneficiary in 2000. As a disadvantage young lady, I was sought out and provided an opportunity for housing, education and Christian training which took me through the University of Liberia. Without this opportunity I would have been lost and hopeless. Today I have a Master’s degree in International Finance, and am the Chief Internal Auditor of the Ministry of Labor, Republic of Liberia. I extend a big thank you to our Founder and Sponsors for giving me an opportunity to live my dream.”

Mrs. Massaline Williams-Kortu is also of the Jewel Starfish Foundation beneficiaries, and she has this to say: “Today, I am one of Liberia’s female role models, an asset to my parents and my community. The tool that opened all of these opportunities was the willingness of our Founder to give me an opportunity to go to school and be the best I could be. I am indeed grateful to all of our Sponsors and our Founder for giving me a chance to stand up and be counted.”

Having officially launched the Starfish Foundation last week, Jewel informed this writer that she is completely divorced from the day-to-day running of her charity vehicle as she is so preoccupied running the office of the Vice President of the Republic of Liberia, among other duties assigned by the President of Liberia, President George Manneh Weah.

It should be noted Jewel’s launch of her Starfish Foundation is not unprecedented. In 2001 President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf officially dedicated her dream early childhood education project, the Lolognta Project in Monrovia’s District # 3 in Fiama Sinkor. The school is a prototype for primary education for children aged 0-6 years.

During the launch, President Sirleaf said the project would combine education, health, nutrition, local culture and social development – an idea she copied from Senegal when she visited her counterpart former president Abdullah Wade. Lolognta continues to be a shining example of early childhood education in Fiama.

The Future

According to Jewel Starfish Foundation officials, the program intends to provide scholarships to 2,000 females commencing from 7th grade to university level education; micro-finance loans to women entrepreneurs; provide entrepreneurship and capacity-building training for women entrepreneurs; provide mentorship programs and empowerment conference for students and entrepreneurs, and provide institutional capacity-building support to the Foundation’s secretariat.

Of course, many will be shocked that a Liberian politician is turning right back to visit her promises to the people. The naysayers are especially angry that Jewel Howard Taylor has taken the bull by the horn to tackle girls education in a very practical way. Citing “conflict of interest” and “Code of Conduct”, Jewel’s critics are fully aware that her decision to empower young girls will run contrary to the parked car philosophy. In their belief, the end must justify the means, even if it means our girls should suffer.

Well, this is is one Liberian who thinks otherwise. Jewel, please continue to promote the education of our future generation. For that alone I stand with you.

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