The U.S. Agency for International Development Mission Director, Patricia Rader, and the Minister of Youth and Sports S. Tornolah Varpilah, have urged Liberian youths to take responsibility for their own futures at a national youth summit sponsored by the U.S. government.
While recognizing that youths face difficult challenges, Minister Varpilah and Mission Director Rader said that it is vital that youths focus and keep positive. "Youths must make the most of opportunities to improve their education and skills," said Mission Director Rader. Minister Varpilah added, "Success is due to hard work, not luck."
Mission Director Rader and Minister Varpilah made the comments at USAID Advancing Youth's First National Youth Summit, held at the Baptist Seminary Youth Camp outside Monrovia. Over 100 youths from Bong, Grand Bassa, Lofa, Montserrado and Nimba Counties attended the four-day summit, which ended December 7.
Learners were selected from the Youth Clubs, which are an integral part of the USAID Advancing Youth's Alternative Basic Education (ABE) program. ABE provides quality alternative basic education, social and leadership development and promotes livelihoods for out-of-school Liberian young people, aged 13-35, who have little education.
The youths, who attended the summit, were the most successful leaders of their Youth Clubs, carrying out a range of activities to support their communities and to encourage their colleagues to enroll in the program and continue with their studies, often in the face of difficult circumstances. Activities included establishing gardens and growing food for consumption and sale, reading and study clubs, sports activities and community service.
During the Summit, Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Thomas Gbokie, discussed the importance of agriculture and the range of opportunities that agriculture offers to youths as a means of earning a living. Minister Gbokie noted that youths are ideal catalysts for implementing new ideas in agriculture and promised to facilitate cooperation with the Ministry's Agricultural Extension Agents.
Kristin Casper, a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer from Salala, gave a presentation to the youths on the development and use of libraries for students and community members. She said that to learn to read, it is important to practice regularly. She was delighted to hear that Youth Clubs have established Reading Clubs to support learners and have helped develop a culture of reading in their communities.
On the final day of the Summit, the youths worked with the Monrovia City Corporation on a community service activity. Alongside community members from Cabra Estate and Cahtows on Old Road, the youths swept streets, and collected dirt and garbage from homes, and deposited it for collection.
The Summit provided an opportunity for learners to support each other and gain experience from the successes of other Youth Clubs and from the various speakers. One young man asked Minister Varpilah how he should react to friends who teased him about attending ABE classes.
The Minister said it is up to each individual to take responsibility for his or her own life and to ignore the teasing. "In the future, the same people who are giving you problems now will come to you for support," said Minister Varpilah.
USAID's Advancing Youth Project is implemented by the U.S.-based Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) in collaboration with the YMCA of Liberia and Mercy Corps.
Working across five of Liberia's 15 counties, the Advancing Youth Project currently has more than 7,000 learners enrolled in courses, and the goal is to reach more than 16,000 Liberians by 2016.