Education is the real gold
“I like my new school because there are no more leaks in the roof,” said a 2nd grade student of the new seven-classroom Gborketa Public School under Bomoku district in Gbarpolu County.
Commemorating the 166th Independence Day of Liberia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf inaugurated the new building on 22 July 2013. During the colourful and festive inaugural ceremony attended by all the village elders, youth and children, the President thanked village elders and community members for contributing their land and for working together with UNICEF to build the school. “We are happy to see that now the children have a good place to learn,” she said.
Besides the new seven-classroom school building, the Gborketa Public School now boasts a new and separate toilets for boys and girls, a water pump, teacher’s room, administrative block, reading room and even a store room.
According to school Principal Jerry Kortu, since its establishment in 1975 as a primary school and its further expansion to a secondary school till seventh grade, Gborketa Public School never had a proper school building or infrastructure.
“The school used to be two small thatch huts with big holes on the walls and roofs. We had to repair all the time but it never lasted long,” said Hamis Mulbah, the social studies teacher since 2001.
According to Mr. Mulbah, most of the school’s 265 students (130 are girls) and their seven teachers had to conduct classes in the open under hot and humid weather. And quite often during the rainy season, the school was forced to close down due to rain leaking into the classrooms.
Such inappropriate and inadequate learning spaces discouraged most parents from sending their children to school. Moreover, the next higher learning center is in the county capital Bopolu, which is about 73 km away from the village. Most parents being poor farmers could not afford to relocate their children in Bopolu. Therefore, many Gborketa children ended up either helping their parents in the farms or working in the local gold mines.
“Our main challenge is that many children are still working in the local mining industries. The new classrooms are big and so we can accommodate more children. We are hopeful that those children in the mines will join school,” said Principal Kortu adding that the school would also benefit from more trained teachers.
Many community elders in Gborketa see the new school as an opportunity for their children to pursue and complete their education instead of toiling in the farms or mines. Some village adults, who dropped out of school in the past, have also expressed their interest to continue their education. In fact, 17 teenagers have already expressed their interest to join the school after seeing the new facilities.
“Thank you for your support. You have opened our eyes and made us realise the importance of education. Thank you for that,” said the village chief. He also requested the government to expand the school till the 10th grade so that they did not have to send their children away.
Twenty three years old Dave Freeman is a 12th grade student in Monrovia and is in Gborketa for his summer vacation. He left Gborketa in 2000 after completing his grade two. “I had to leave Gborketa because the school did not have classes beyond grade two. It did not even have chairs, books and blackboards,” he said. “The money I earn from gold mining would benefit me in the short term. When I am through with education, it will benefit me more,” said Dave when asked why he did not choose to mine gold and make quick money.
As requested by the village chief, Education minister Etmonia David Tarpeh said that the school would be eventually upgraded to a higher secondary and requested the community to help maintain the school facilities. She also encouraged the community members and the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) to actively participate in school activities and make the school a centre for positive community interactions.
UNICEF Education Chief, Christine d’Agostini said that the community’s support for the school construction project shows the great value and importance that the community placed on education. “Please bring your children to school and don’t let them work in the fields and mines. Education is the Real Gold,” she said.
The school inauguration is also timely and appropriate as Liberia celebrates 10 years of continued peace and growth. The theme for the 2013 International Day of Peace on 21 September is “Education for Peace”, thus validating the importance of education and hence schools as a means for long and lasting peace and development of a country.
UNICEF constructed the school with the generous funding support from the Government and People of Japan. The project is part of the Japanese government’s over all support for construction and rehabilitation of 90 schools (30 new and 60 renovation/expansion).
Furniture for all the schools under the project is funded by the Government of Netherlands.
A model of community partnership
The school was constructed in a record time of just five months. According to UNICEF site engineer Suliman Bah,, this was possible because of Gborketa community’s full cooperation and support.
“The community welcomed us with such great enthusiasm…with anticipation, merriment and excitement,” said Suliman Bah adding that the village leader had assigned their youth leader and his deputy to support the construction team.
“While the village men dug out the sand, the women hauled the sand on to the trucks. The women felt empowered in contributing towards the development of their village. It was not like a construction activity but one big event where everyone participated,” he said, adding that the children were most appreciative. They fetched drinking water and offered fruits, vegetables and even meat to the workers. The house owners where the workers lived for five months refused to take rents. To compensate them, the workers repaired their houses.
The project engineer also said that the support from the district authorities including the County Education Officer (CEO) contributed to the success.
UNICEF Engineer Aynul Huda said the successful and record completion of the Gborketa school dispelled the common belief that Liberia did not have the capacity to undertake such construction projects.
“It is also a good example of the results one can achieve if the community not only cooperates but also contribute and work together to achieve results for the common good,” he said adding that the Gborketa project module of community partnership should be replicated in similar projects across Liberia.
- Kinley Dorji, UNICEF Liberia