Engaging and Educating the ECC Youth Group

Life is at its best, when you can do something that you love! Well, this was made possible by my dear friend Elijah Wreh, who had invited me to be the guest speaker for the Ebenezer Community Church (ECC) Youth Group today (February 26, 2012). Back in January, Elijah texted me that he was recently appointed as the new Youth Director and stated that he would be seeking my help. I was eager to learn more about what he needed, because it is my passion to work with youth development.

Before I go into some of the highlights of today’s presentation, I want to share more about the leadership of this group. I can say without hesitation that the young people in this group are very fortunate to have not only Elijah as a leader, but also his wife Gradieh. I have known this vibrant couple for about two years. They are both  intelligent, hardworking and constantly seeking ways to make this a better world. These two inspire me greatly that I do what I can to support them. For nearly two years, Elijah and I have been working periodically on a project that he is developing that would help support the educational efforts of young people in Liberia. Gradieh is a co-owner of Hairitage Creations Beauty Salon in Brooklyn Park and I have been a her client for 18 months. 

Now to the highlights! It was an honor to present to some very smart and spirited Liberian youth from ages 13 to 25 about my experience and research of their home nation. Everyone of them was eager to “test their knowledge” on Liberia’s geography and history at the start of the presentation as a way to ‘break the ice’. While they were quick to answer most questions, they did have two challenging ones.

The first one was “How was Liberia created?” and it did stump the group as they made several attempts to answer it. Their answers were more about who founded Liberia and not the one act that made it possible. So, I finally gave them the answer and explained that Liberia was created when U.S. Congress passed the Anti-Slave Trade Act in 1819 that gave the American Colonization Society (ACS) the money–$100,000–to establish a colony in West Africa. Prior to the passing of this act, ACS was unable to raise the money needed for their purpose.

The other question was “Why did Liberia declare Independence?” which this was implying to an economic reason. After receiving some good efforts from other participants, this one was answered correctly by one of the young men. He mentioned how Liberia had trade relationships with other nations and they would not pay customs for the goods they were trading as long as it was not a sovereign nation. Until their independence in 1847, Liberia was under the auspice rule of the ACS and the trading nations did not consider this organization as a nation. Plus at this time, the ACS was extremely broke and were ready to pass on the responsibility of governance to this fledgling new nation.

The rest of the presentation focused on the present situations such as limited electricity, no running water, high unemployment and poverty rates, and other factors that still challenge this war-torn nation’s recovery efforts. Then we discussed the future opportunities such as mobile technology, alternative energy sources, agriculture (i.e. supporting local farmers) and human resources development.

I wanted to engage these young participates on what are some of the possibilities of making a difference back home. Though many were born in Liberia, some had moved away when they were younger and were now accustomed to U.S. living. It appeared that most really hadn’t thought about returning to Liberia or how they could be a catalyst for change.

We ended the presentation with an energized question and answer session. One of the young men was eager to know what programs were available to volunteer with that were helping Liberia. This was a great question and I shared with him that there were several organizations in the Twin Cities focused on projects in Liberia. They were hungry to know more and yet our time was running short. We closed with Elijah saying a final prayer and everyone gave me a resounding thank you!

Later in the day, Gradieh called me and provided some great feedback about today’s interactions. The young people were still talking about my presentation after I was gone and how much they learned surprisingly from a “white women.” She also shared that they will be looking for organizations that their groups members can sign-up to be volunteers. This put a smile on my face, because now these young people felt empowered to do something good!

This post will end with the following pictures of my great day with some amazing young people:

Elijah Wreh, Ebenezer Community Church Youth Director
This is my audience of about 25 to 30 young people.
Close up of some of young people sitting at the back.
All eyes are turned at the young lady in the second row as she answers one of the geography questions.
Many hands were raised as the history questions were being asked.

This group was quite eager to answers questions and share their knowledge.

Giving some hints about the first challenge question “How was Liberia created?
That smile I am wearing indicates that this group was great to work with!
The young man in the middle is answering one of the questions.
The young lady in the second row wearing the white dress with the black jacket, demonstrated her knowledge by naming all the Liberian Presidents.
One of three group pictures at the end of the presentation. Gradieh Wreh is in the black jacket and red skirt.

Group photo number two.

Group photo three with some position changes!

Connecting Liberia and United States of American (Puzzle Activity Included)

On August 24, Liberia celebrated its Flag Day, and many businesses and government agencies closed to recognize this national holiday. This was a day for Liberians to display proudly their flag either on their house or car similar to how U.S. citizens honor their Flag Day on June 14. The flags of these two countries are a clear indicator in how Liberia and the United States of America are connected.

Just by looking at these two flags one can quickly notice how they are similar to one another. They both share the same color theme that for the U.S. Flag is symbolic: Red represents Hardiness and Valor, White represents Purity and Innocence, and Blue represents Vigilance, Perseverance and Justice (The History of American Flag). They both, however, differ on the number of stars and stripes. The single star on the Liberia Flag represents one nation–Lone Star– whereas the 50 stars on the U.S. Flag represents the 50 states that joined one nation. The 11 stripes on the Liberia Flag represents the 11 signers of their Declaration of Independence whereas the 13 stripes on the U.S. Flag represents the first 13 colonies that started this nation (The History of American Flag and Hyman).

These two nations also share a common reason in why they declared independence that involves Great Britain and taxation. Additionally, these two nations declared their independence in the same month though separated by 71 years and 22 days.

The 13 original colonies of British North America were governed and protected by Great Britain until a stalemate was reached over the argument of taxation. In 1765, two years after the French and Indian War, the British parliament decided to redress the massive war debts they accrued during this conflict also known as the Seven Years’ War. The colonists saw this as an act of tyranny–taxation without representation–and also as unconstitutional, because the British Constitution was not framed and adopted at specific time. Instead it was amassed by laws, judicial decisions, customs and other constitutional type documents such as the Magna Carta. Therefore, in 1775 after ten years of arguments the colonist began their Revolutionary War against Great Britain leading to the adoption of their Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 (The Constitution, 6-8).

Liberia was founded in 1822 as a colony of the United States of America, and for over 20 years it was governed by the American Colonization Society (ACS). However, this new colony struggled to exist since the ACS was financially constrained, so Liberia relied on its revenue from trading with foreign markets. In 1938, Liberia became a commonwealth and adopted a new constitution to govern all the merged settlements. This commonwealth for the next eight years received most of its revenue from charging custom duties on indigenous traders and British merchants. However, this angered the British government and they refused to recognize Liberia’s sovereignty for levying taxes, because this colony was governed by the ACS, a private organization. Therefore, ensuring their right for survival Liberia adopted and signed their Declaration of Independence on July 26, 1847. Thus giving them full taxing authority by which Britain was the first to recognize this new country (History of Liberia).

During the 20th and 21st centuries both countries experienced changes in their landscapes. The U.S. expanded westward from its 13 colonies to 50 states when Hawaii was last admitted in 1959 (Hawaii). Liberia, on the other hand, had some border disputes with the neighboring British and French Colonies until 1892 when its boundaries were officially established (Liberia). Additionally, Liberia as colony was first divided into three provinces–Western, Central and Eastern; however, these eventually split into counties with the first five being created in 1800’s and eight more in the 1900’s. These thirteen counties remained the primary administrative divisions until two counties split creating two new ones in 2000 and 2001 respectively (Liberia-Wikipedia).

This post closes with an activity–Discover the 15 Counties of Liberia–that can be shared with the family by clicking the link below and printing it. This activity includes Word Search and Crossword puzzles, and blank outlined map for locating the counties that can also be colored by the kids. Some of you may find this activity simple while others may find it a challenge. Those of you who find this difficult, the internet is the best resource to search for the answers. The answers will be posted on September 5, 2009. Good Luck and Have Fun!

Discover the 15 Counties of Liberia (LiberiaCounties.pdf)

Works Cited

The Constitution of the United States with the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of the Confederation. Introduction by R. B. Bernstein. Barnes and Noble Inc., 2002.

Hawaii. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 28 Aug. 2009 http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/257332/Hawaii

The History of the American Flag. USA Flag Site. 2006. 28 August 2009 http://www.usa-flag-site.org/history.shtml

History of Liberia: A Time Line: 1820-1847, 1847-1871. The Library of Congress: American Memory. 12 March 1998. 28 August 2009 http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/gmdhtml/libhtml/liberia.html#fcr

Hyman, Lester S. United States Policy Towards Liberia, 1822-2003: Unintended Consequences? Africana Homestead Legacy Publishers, 2005.

Liberia. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 28 August 2009 http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/339254/Liberia.

Liberia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 2009. 29 August 2009 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberia