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At a glance: Liberia

Mamiwhe’s story: Advancing girls’ education for the sake of Liberia’s future

© UNICEF video
Mamiwhe Kpahgbor, 16, has made it to secondary school in Monrovia, Liberia, despite obstacles that still keep many girls from completing their education.

By Sabine Dolan

MONROVIA, Liberia, 19 March 2007 – After school, Mamiwhe Kpahgbor, 16, goes to the market to help her mother sell fish here in Liberia’s capital.

At her stall each day, Mamiwhe’s mother, Elizabeth, struggles to make ends meet and support her family. Sending her four children to school has always been a priority.

In a country where only about a quarter of all women are literate, Mamiwhe is one of the lucky few girls who have made it to high school. Across Liberia, only 28 per cent of girls enrol in secondary education, compared with 40 per cent of boys.

“Something like 60 per cent of females aged 15 to 25 have either never been to school or not completed their education,” says UNICEF Representative in Liberia Rozanne Charlton.

Schooling disrupted by war

Now in 10th grade, Mamiwhe says she enjoys studying. Like most schoolgirls, she has her favourite and least favourite subjects.

“I really love school. I do well in economics, that’s my subject,” Mamiwhe says before adding, “Physics gives me problems. It’s very hard!”

© UNICEF video
Mamiwhe with friends outside their secondary school in Monrovia.

Poverty (three-quarters of the population lives on less than $1 a day), social and cultural practices, and Liberia’s civil war have all had a devastating impact on education. The war destroyed or severely damaged 75 per cent of the country’s education infrastructure.

Of course, the conflict not only disrupted the school system but also traumatized children. “My father got sick and he died during the war,” says Mamiwhe. “It was so bad.”

Obstacles to girls’ education

Getting an education has been especially hard for girls who are asked to spend a lot of their time helping around the house and are traditionally discriminated against.

The problem of sexual abuse and exploitation is another obstacle for girls, and early marriages or pregnancies often interrupt their schooling. Mamiwhe knows that well; some of her schoolmates dropped out of school during their pregnancies and have not returned for fear of being shamed or ridiculed.

“That’s why I want to make a difference,” she asserts.

© UNICEF video
Adolescent girls at a clinic in Liberia. Early marriage and pregnancy often interrupt or terminate girls’ schooling.

Work to be done

With the end of the civil conflict, the educational system is being revitalized with an eye toward the specific needs of girls. Working with its partners and the government, UNICEF has helped Liberia develop a national framework for girls’ education.

UNICEF is also helping more than 1 million children get to school. In 2006, the organization provided essential learning materials and supplies to 400,000 children at 2,000 public schools, as well as training for some 500 government schoolteachers.

Still, much work remains to be done to address urgent issues such as the severe shortage of teaching and learning materials, the lack of adequate teaching spaces and basic amenities such as water and sanitation facilities in schools.

Education for the future

Back in Monrovia’s 12th Street neigbourhood, Mamiwhe says she wants to become an architect and hopes to marry when she’s ready.

“I want to get married when I’m 24 or 25,” she insists. “First, I would like to love the man. I would like this man to be, you know, educated. Handsome? Of course, that part is out of the question because he must be handsome!”

As Liberia rebuilds, Mamiwhe hopes her education will help to make a positive difference for her own future and that of her country.




March 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Sabine Dolan reports on the story of 10th grader Mamiwhe Kpahgbor in Monrovia, Liberia.
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March 2007:
Women in Liberia talk about girls’ education. UNICEF correspondent Sabine Dolan reports.
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