Five hundred young African leaders, including 15 Liberians, have arrived in the United States to take part in the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, the flagship program of President Obama's Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).
The Washington Fellowship aims to empower 500 of Africa's most promising young leaders through academic coursework at U.S. colleges and universities, leadership training, networking, and professional opportunities.
The Washington Fellowship is a key component of President Obama's commitment to invest in the future of Africa.
The White House developed this initiative in recognition of the critical and increasing role that young Africans are playing in strengthening democratic institutions, spurring economic growth, and enhancing peace and security in Africa.
Over the next six weeks, the Washington Fellows will be hosted by colleges and universities.
On campus, Fellows will participate in academic and leadership institutes in one of three areas including business and entrepreneurship, civic leadership, and public management.
All Fellows will convene in Washington D.C. for a three-day Presidential Summit, where they will engage in a Town Hall event with President Obama.
One hundred of the 500 Fellows, including three of Liberia's 15 participants, will remain in the United States for professional fellowships at U.S. businesses, non-governmental organizations, and governmental offices.
Upon returning to their respective home countries, Fellows will engage in networking sessions and have access to seed funding and professional development opportunities.
Over 49,000 candidates from throughout Sub-Saharan Africa between the ages of 25 and 35 applied for the 2014 Washington Fellows, making the Washington Fellowship selection highly competitive.
The selected 500 Washington Fellows, 50 percent of whom are women, represent all 49 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Liberia selected 15 young leaders out of 850 applicants to participate in this inaugural program.
Here are the profiles of Liberia's Washington Fellows for 2014:
Abel W. Cheayan
Abel Cheayan has worked for the past four years on youth and environmental programs. As a co-founder and president of Natural Resources Research Initiative (NRRI), he encourages young people to become involved in the formulation of Liberia's natural resource policies. NRRI has partnered with various institutions including the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the U.N. Development Program (UNDP). Abel is also Liberia's representative for the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) Tunza Initiative, which provides young people with information and tools on how to "treat Mother Earth with care".
Abel, originally from Greenville, Sinoe County, is an orphan who was adopted by an Australian family, and he dedicates time to developing programs for Guardian Care, a non-profit organization committed to improving the lives of orphans. In one such program, Hands for Hope (H4H), he encourages single mothers and youth to engage in sustainable agriculture and generate income from their crop sales.Abel is working towards his Bachelor of Science Degree in Petroleum Engineering at St. Clement University. In addition, he has a Certificate in Public Speaking and English Proficiency and an Advanced Diploma in Project Proposals and Research Papers Writing.
Abel will be participating in the Civic Leadership Institute at Tulane University.
Samuel T. Duo
Samuel Duo, of Monrovia, has over 13 years of experience as a human resource manager and community organizer. He is the Founder and Executive Director of Calvary Empowerment Team (CET), a non-profit organization that works with youth in slum communities in Montserrado and Margibi Counties. Through a combination of sports, education, health and leadership activities, CET has encouraged young people to adopt healthier lifestyles. In addition to CET, Samuel founded ANGELAVIN URBAN SERVICES, a savings and loan organization that helps traders, students and low income earners raise capital for their projects. Samuel is currently a human resources manager at Population Services International, where he works to strengthen the organization's HR strategy.
Samuel received a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration Management from the African Methodist Episcopal University and a Master's Degree in Business
Administration from the University of Liberia. He also holds a certificate in Human Resource Management. Samuel will be participating in the Civic Leadership Institute at Wagner College.
Matthew M. Fred
Matthew Fred, of Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, is a humanitarian and a journalist. In 2009, he founded Youth Against Tribalism in Africa (YATIA), through which he works to settle tribal disputes and conflicts in rural, multi-tribal villages. He believes animosity between tribal groups is the root cause of underdevelopment and conflict on the continent. Inspired by Matthew's vision, students in Uganda and Somalia have established similar organizations in their countries, aimed at raising awareness and abolishing tribalism.
Matthew is also Editor of Bassa Times, a local weekly newspaper that writes about issues affecting rural dwellers in Grand Bassa County. Specifically, he works to publish development and human rights stories. He is also a media and web consultant in Grand Bassa County, where he organizes local press conferences for civil society organizations, writes press releases for local non-profits and maintains websites for youth organizations. Matthew has a Diploma in Computer Science and certificates in peace-building and human rights journalism. Matthew will be participating in the Civic Leadership Institute at the University of Virginia.
Benjamin M. Freeman, Jr.
Benjamin Freeman, Jr., born in Kakata, Margibi County, has worked for over four years to improve Liberia's education system. In 2009, he founded the Liberia Institute for the Promotion of Academic Excellence (LIPACE), a non-governmental organization that uses a data driven approach to ensure access to quality education for Liberia's youth. Through "Turning the Tide", LIPACE's flagship program, Benjamin has addressed the problem of the high rate of Liberian students who are failing to pass the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) exam. LIPACE held remedial classes in three different counties over a three-month period. As a result, approximately 75% of the 374 students enrolled in his tutorial classes passed their exam, compared to national passing average of 69%. Notably, the passing rate in Bomi and Gbarpolu Counties more than doubled in the three years since he established the program.
Benjamin is currently a program associate with the iTeach, iLearn Fellowship, an organization that supports and mentors top-performing Liberian high school seniors and recent graduates to pursue higher education in the United States. In this role, he manages the recruitment and supervision of tutors, as well as the program's social media presence.
Benjamin holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering from the Stella Maris Polytechnic and a certificate in Monitoring & Evaluation from St. Clement University in
Monrovia. He represented Liberia at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Malaysia. Benjamin will be participating in the Civic Leadership Institute at Arizona State University. He was also selected for a two-month internship, which will follow his academic and leadership training.
Laura Golakeh, born in Bong Town, Bong County, is a passionate human rights advocate, who believes in the power of education to change her country. She is Founder and Executive Director of Right to Read, a community-based organization that teaches underprivileged children, especially girls, to read and write. Right to Read also advocates for improvements to Liberia's National Youth Policy.
Laura is also the gender officer for Youth NGO Network for Reproductive Health, where she works to ensure adolescent girls have access to quality healthcare and information. In the past, she served as a communications officer for the Angie Brooks International Center and gender coordinator for the first women's empowerment center in her community.
Laura received her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from African Methodist Episcopal University at the age of 20 and is currently pursuing a law degree at the University of Liberia. She also has numerous certificates in journalism, monitoring and evaluation and development. Laura was named a Voice of Our Future Correspondent by World Pulse. The award is given to selected women around the world who have shown a passion for human rights and women's issues in their communities.
Laura will be participating in the Civic Leadership Institute at Arizona State University.
James A. Greaves
James Greaves, originally from Gorblee, Grand Bassa County, has over six years of experience in youth development and juvenile justice advocacy. He is the Acting Coordinator for the Juvenile Diversion Project and a member of the President's Young Professional Program. In his position at the Ministry of Justice he chairs the Independent Accreditation Committee, which carries out an assessment of orphanages in Liberia to ensure they are compliant with current laws and government policies.
James also has worked with the Ministry of Youth & Sports and the National Elections Commission.
James received his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Public Administration and a certificate in Peace and Conflict Resolution from Cuttington University, where he was also the President of the Student Government. He is currently pursuing a law degree at the University of Liberia. He has also received various academic and leadership honors from Cuttington University and the Grand Bassa Students Union.
James will be participating in the Public Management Institute at Howard University. He was also selected for a two-month internship, which will follow his academic and leadership training.
Phillip G. Innis
Phillip Innis, originally of Guthrie, Bomi County, has over six years of experience working with public entities in areas of revenue assurance, fraud management, government auditing, transparency and public financial management. He is currently the internal audit team leader at the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL), where he plans and executes financial and operational audits. While at NOCAL, he spearheaded the initiative to ensure the independence of the internal audit function. He has previously worked with the Ministry of Finance and the General Auditing Commission.
Phillip has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Economics from the University of Liberia and a Master's Degree in Business Administration in Oil and Gas Management from Coventry University in the United Kingdom. He is a member of the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA). Upon completion of the Washington Fellowship, Phillip plans to continue to work with public entities in Liberia with a focus on revenue assurance and fraud management in extractive industries.
Phillip will be participating in the Public Management Institute at Syracuse University.
Sarah M. Johnson
Sarah Johnson, of Monrovia, has worked in the public financial management sector for the past two years. She believes one of Liberia's major challenges is the lack of ministerial capacity. Thus, she hopes to become a financial expert to contribute to the development of the public sector. Sarah is currently a budget analyst with the Ministry of Finance and a member of the President's Young Professional Program. In this role, she manages assigned agencies' budgets and advises decision makers on their budget writing process.
As a university student, Sarah worked to promote women's participation in campus-based activities. She began by distributing pamphlets to her fellow women classmates that explained why they should participate in campus groups. Subsequently, she organized meetings and brainstorming sessions with her colleagues and university administration. Her group was formally recognized as the African Methodist Episcopal University Women Initiative.
Sarah received her Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration in Accounting from African Methodist Episcopal University. Sarah will be participating in the Public Management Institute at Morgan State University.
Patrice D. Juah
Patrice Juah, originally from Gbarnga, Bong County, is a youth mentor, health advocate, promoter of gender empowerment, fashion designer, entrepreneur and former beauty queen. She is the owner of MOIE, a fashion design business. As its creative director, she researches and designs new pieces, oversees production and manages the company's branding. Her advocacy extends to her work in fashion. Through her initiative, "Fashion with Compassion", she provides young women and single mothers with economic development opportunities. In 2013, Patrice's clothing brand was selected to represent Liberian fashion at the 2013 Africa Fashion Reception in Paris. MOIE also participates in the U.S. Embassy's semiannual Arts and Crafts Fair.
Patrice believes one of Liberia's major challenges is its unskilled workforce. She looks forward to improving the textile and clothing sector by organizing seminars and workshops in collaboration with international agencies to train tailors and seamstresses. She would like to open a vocational school to offer courses in fashion design, textile production, cosmetology and management.
Patrice has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Mass Communication and an Advanced Certificate in Fashion & Apparel Design. Patrice was Miss Liberia from 2006-2007.
Patrice will be participating in the Business & Entrepreneurship Institute at Dartmouth College.
Kolu M. Kamah
Kolu Kamah, of Monrovia, has nearly 10 years of experience in the health sector. She is currently the Acting Hospital Administrator at ELWA Hospital. In this capacity, she oversees the daily financial and human resources operations. She is also the Director of Nursing Services and manages 60 nurses and midwives. Kolu was instrumental in the implementation of two public awareness campaigns at ELWA. The first, a radio program on Liberian Women Democracy Radio (LWDR), allows women to ask questions about health issues that concern them. Secondly, she introduced family planning sessions at the hospital to provide women and girls with up-to-date reproductive health information.
Kolu believes education is the key to Liberia's development and looks forward to starting a private primary and secondary school, which will give youth access to quality education. Kolu received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing and Master's Degree in Public Health from Cuttington University.
Kolu will be participating in the Business & Entrepreneurship Institute at the University of Texas at Austin. She was also selected for a two-month internship, which will follow her academic and leadership training.
Mohammed B. Kamara
Mohammed B. Kamara, originally from Voinjama, Lofa County, has worked for more than 10 years on youth empowerment in emergency and development situations. In 2011, he founded Peace Link Liberia, which strives to empower stakeholders in Lofa County to create a non-violent community by addressing tensions between members of different tribes and religions. Previously, Mohammed established a health club for youth in River Gee, where he held awareness campaigns on issues of teenage pregnancy, drugs and substance abuse, early marriage and HIV/AIDS. He disseminated information on market days and through the local radio station.
Mohammed also has worked with refugee communities since 2000. He is currently a program assistant with IBIS-Support to Ivorian Refugees and Host Community (SIRHC) in Grand Gedeh and River Gee Counties. In this capacity he conducts life skills and vocational training for young people.
Mohammed holds certificates in teaching and project design from the International Rescue Committee and in financial management and sustainability from Management Accountability for Non-Governmental Organizations in the United Kingdom. Mohammed will be participating in the Civic Leadership Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.
Sedekie B. Kamara
Sedekie Kamara, born in Gbartala, Bong County, has more than 10 years of experience as a teacher, development planner and social worker for refugee communities. Inspired by a desire to pursue a career in international development, he volunteered with Global Orphan Outreach, an American non-profit that provides humanitarian assistance to extremely poor and disadvantaged people. He is working toward establishing his own non-profit, Youth United for Community Empowerment and Development (YUCED).
Sedekie is Senior Planning Officer with the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs (MEPA). The Ministry formulates national development plans for Liberia. He has played a key role in the implementation of the Poverty Reduction Strategy through his analysis of county development reports. In addition, he led district consultations in Margibi County in preparation for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's Agenda for Transformation and Vision 2030.
Sedekie has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Economics and is currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Business Administration in Finance from Cuttington University. He received the Cyril Bright Award for obtaining the highest Grade Point Average in the Economics Department. Sedekie was a 2011 participant in the U.S. State Department's International Visitor Leadership Program.
Sedekie will be participating in the Public Management Institute at Morgan State University.
Yassah N. Lavelah
Yassah Lavelah, of Monrovia, has more than five years of experience in the health sector. Her work focuses on social enterprise and sustainability in community healthcare with a specific emphasis on reducing infant mortality. Based on her nursing experience in four of Liberia's major medical centers, Yassah believes that increasing the number of trained midwives in Liberia will lead to a reduction in infant mortality. Thus, she looks forward to creating a Midwives Association, which will allow midwives from around the country to petition the government and private contributors for support.
Yassah currently works as a nurse at ELWA Hospital. In addition to attending to patients, she conducts workshops and lectures on disease prevention and other safety measures. She is also a nurse at the Ma V. Maternity Clinic, which she established with her mother in 2005. Yassah also holds weekly health assessments and workshops for youth in her role as a volunteer community health nurse with Youth Crime Watch-Liberia. Yassah has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing from Cuttington University.
Yassah will be participating in the Business & Entrepreneurship Institute at the University of Notre Dame.
James K. Mulbah
James Mulbah, originally from Gbarnga, Bong County, has more than six years of experience empowering Liberian youth and protecting the environment. As Founder and Executive Director of Concerned Youth Organized for Development and Progressive Action (CYODPA), Inc., he provided monthly counseling to over 200 young people in Monrovia's Turtle Base Ghetto. Through CYODPA, James raised funds to conduct weekly tutoring sessions and to provide 25 children with scholarships to attend school.
James is now the Chief Executive Officer of Compost Liberia, a youth-based enterprise that is Liberia's first waste recycling center. Through Compost Liberia, James has expanded his youth initiatives by creating more than 150 jobs for young people in slum communities throughout Monrovia. In addition, Compost Liberia educates Liberians on the importance of keeping their communities green and clean. Most recently, the organization educated gardeners and farmers on the benefits of using organic compost instead of chemical fertilizers to grow their crops.
James has received numerous certificates and accolades, among them a Diploma in Peace Building and Conflict Transformation from the Kofi Annan institute for Conflict Transformation and a certificate in Financial Management from the World Bank Group. In 2013, Ghana's TV Africa named him the Best Producing Manager for his innovation in waste sector management. In December James will receive his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology from the University of Liberia.
James will be participating in the Business & Entrepreneurship Institute at University of Wisconsin-Stout.
Agiechie C. Sawyer
Agiechie Sawyer, of Monrovia, has worked for more than seven years at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in the Division of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), where she focuses on growing and empowering Liberia's businesses. In this capacity, she organizes networking events, entrepreneurship summits and workshops to help MSMEs overcome barriers that prevent them from achieving their business development goals.
While at the Ministry, Agiechie also proposed a program to encourage female entrepreneurship and empowerment. In partnership with the International Finance Corporation, she aided in the establishment of the Liberia Women Entrepreneur Network (LIWEN). Today, the network has approximately 75 members, who have access to development and financial opportunities. Agiechie is also the founding partner of Enterprise Development Consultancy (EDC), a firm that provides business development services to new companies.
Agiechie received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology from the University of Liberia and is currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Public Health at Cuttington University. She also holds a certificate in Small and Medium Enterprises Development and Promotion from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
Agiechie will be participating in the Public Management Institute at Syracuse University.