Reflections from Liberia by Pauline Wanja, Programme Manager in Kenya
I am writing on a flight back home to Nairobi, after an exciting week in Liberia, discussing and planning for an “An alumni community for every school in Liberia”. The return flight is 12 hours and I have plenty of time to reflect on my trip as I scroll through the hundreds of photographs of the week.
In one of the photos I am in a circle of men who are trying to get a word in as they are sharing stories of their work and talking me through the recipe of making a perfect pot of pepper soup. These men are the principals of schools in Liberia. Their stories are on the daily hustle of administering a school. I listen attentively, politely and curiously. Their stories carry the undertones of the effect of Civil war and Ebola on the Education System. In addition to being educators the principals have to take part in rebuilding a war torn education system. The prolonged Civil wars (1989-2003) left the education systems in shambles. Liberians Schools just reopened from a long closure owing to Ebola, the principals talk of their new found roles in educating students on Ebola, taking measures to ensure no new cases are reported in their schools and sometimes counselling student affected or orphaned by Ebola.
Unknown to me at the time three of the principals were alumni of the school they are now administering. I took the opportunity to ask Mr Erickson of Vornjama Multilateral High School a few questions.
What inspired you to take up a role as a Principal of your Alma Mater?
I went back home after the war in 2002 and my home was in ruins, the schools were completely destroyed. I felt the need to reorganize my school alumni members to see what we could do. I become the president of the alumni association, a position I served until 2012 when I joined the school as the principal at the request of my fellow alumnus.
What are some of the projects the alumni association provided to the school?
Immediately upon reopening the school our focus was on the immediate basic need of running a school, mostly stationery. Alumni in diaspora also regrouped and fundraised for money to buy chairs. As the association grew stronger we appealed alumni in government to ensure that the money allocated for rebuilding the school gets to the school. The alumni in government gave the rebuilding of school project some urgency since government’s projects can be very bureaucratic. Also the alumni association submitted bids for construction projects.
Is there any interaction between the alumni in the Association and the current student?
Yes during Gala days and we get to have three days during the period focussing on careers.
Your School already has a strong alumni association, why are you interested in Future First Global Alumni Program?
To learn, to share our experience and also to grow the alumni association, at the moment we have very few active alumni.
The Second Principal chimes in and tells me his case is no different but for him he was already a Principal at a different school when he received a call from one of the alumni from their school telling him his alma mater is full of over grown grass and a ghost school. It was mess and such a discouraging place to work at for the first couple of years. Among the first donations from the alumni were two lawn mowers.
Lunch break is over and we have to resume the workshop on building alumni communities in school. Prior to workshop meeting with the principals, Future First Global CEO , Our Local Liberian Partners, YOCEL, and I had a chance visit a couple of schools, some hours drive from the city. Most of the schools were in such a state- The Student didn’t have chairs and were all seated on the floor; even the teachers Parlour didn’t have chairs. To accommodate the huge student population the schools had AM and PM classes, with some student schooling until noon and others starting off in the afternoon.
Reflecting on the state of the schools that night we wondered if building alumni communities was a priority for the school, equipping the schools with chairs and building classrooms felt more urgent and the sensible thing to do. But conversations with over a dozen schools principals gave insight to the specific role and significant need of Alumni in Liberia schools, like the principals they too get to play part in rebuilding an education system. And we were surrounded with Alumni doing exactly that.
Ones alma Mater should be the priority of any alumni, to strengthen the work of the school Institutions in rebuilding Liberia.” Peter Logan, Alumni and Vice Principal of E. Goodridge Memorial High School.