October 2019: Father Johnny

As the coordinator of From Street to School Board, I want to acquaint you first with the opening of School for academic 2019/20.

We are sponsoring 48 students this academic year and they are registered in 18 schools including 1 tuition free(public school). Government schools are all tuition free as school attendence is obligatory by law in Liberia. 

Nevertheless, a little amount is charged for Parents and Teachers Association (PTA) and uniform. That’s about  47USD in total per school year. Fees in general do not include textbooks. All textbooks are bought or rented since the end of the war in 2003. Even at book rental the books are unaffordable for some of the students.

Families in Monrovia are often overfilled with children from the country, because relatives there believe that the city will offer better social status or greener pasture by default.

One challenging point about government schools is that they lack control, teachers and space – classrooms are crowded, quality of lessons all too often would be disappointing. Many see private and mission schools to be more reliable.

From Street to School paid fees in private schools for 43 students in August 2019. The others will be paid as we receive donations. Fees range from 80 to 250 USD/Semester depending on quality of lessons and grades/level of students.

Father Johnny at the Shirley Kolmer School, Monrovia

The school year started on Sept. 2, 2019. Our students began classes immediately.

I was out of the country in Nairobi Kenya for some youth outreach programme from September 1-14, 2019. 

While in Nairobi, I ran youth programmes for 550 school going children and 50 young people in vocational training school. It was a learning process for me- learning more about children and young people and the culture of Kenya, in a sense Global Learning.

I travelled with an 8-man/woman team- 5 from Liberia( 4 Liberians and an American, 1 girl included), 1 from Togo and 2 from Ghana. The programme was in three faces- SAFARI, to kids between the ages of 7 to 13 years, QUEST- kids between the ages of 14 to 18 years and KOIN for 19 years above. The programmes were developed to help kids develop their self-esteem, build up their listening skills, learning leadership skills, making good decisions and following instructions.

Knowledge and experience are won through games,  jokes/fun, play, sharing of experiences and group/team presentation. We’d workshop for all the kids and youngsters.

We stayed in Nairobi of the poor to run our programmes. I was surprised about the social structure of this old colonial city, which is so different in comparison with our Monrovia.

Father Johnny at the KOIN Program in Nairobi

Upon my return home I decided to share the knowledge with other kids and youngsters. We ran our first SAFARI for one of the schools we’ve one student, Shirley Kolmer School. 40 students participated. It was awesome and joyous.

We’re planning to run SAFARI and QUEST in schools where we have our students particularly and extend to other institutions.

Second, I want to give you an idea about  how I am helping students . I am helping the students by visiting their campuses and checking progress reports; keeping in contact with their families and organizing gatherings, excursions and workshops for them.

Our students are spread all over the city. We also have few students in other counties – Nimba, Margibi and Bong. 

Students being spread over the city is actually due to the story of Pro Liberia- but we feel assured through many experiences with students who restarted there school lives in another school. The setting of following the students and not a single school doesn’t have advantages only, but as we have it we accept the disadvantages as are mainly: coping with distances in respect of communication and travelling.

Monrovia doesn’t provid public transport for students hence, children, mainly girls won’t be well-received travelling on their own.

Third point of my today’s talk for Voice of Liberia are the workshops and gatherings we’ve planned for October: October 19- students gathering( games and outing), October 26- students workshop, December 26-31 kids/youth camp and excursion outside city.

With those activities we match students from different social backgrounds in working group. They would learn to work together and learn by teaching their peers.

My last point are the challenges. First let me mention those to be faced by the students. The economic and monetary crisis in Liberia is affecting our students in a very distinctive manner. Some are complaining of not having meals before going to school and their parents don’t offer them lunch money. Another challenge is with text books, backpacks and school uniforms. 

I stop counting here, because I know that help from outside won’t help enough to achieve sustainable change especially if it’s more and more about basic human needs. We want students read and reflect, but would have to feed them first!

Daily life is so filled with some little challenge and all are used to 
complaining. This is because most feel that the future at the horizon of their lives is blur. I am working on the field of convincing young people of a life that’s worth living because of moral order and awareness.

In conclusion may I share with you my personal background. I am mainly working as a catholic priest. This has made me to achieve lot from European education and way of life. After my priestly studies I did further studies at a master’s level in Education Administration and Supervision. With this progress in my life, I am zealous to share with others my experience and education. 

On a formal base of such support I’m offering service to the youth of our Diocese, From Street to School and the Stella Maris University through workshops and lectures. 

When I reflect on all changes and occurances during the last 5 years I find political and health desasters,  happy moments with students and other situations that  lead a meaningful and hope  life.

Unfortunately, validation of the steps of From Street to School as an organization towards autonomous structures appears ambivalent presently. We are not a one man show there in Liberia. We are actually a group people trying our best we can to develop strong and vibrant organization. 

We established fix traditions, policies and helpful student-activities over the years and we are raising funds to sustain our students. This is done in non-corrupt way; all is transparent.

With all this we’ve not yet managed to settle traditions and meaningful rituals in the board of the organization and in the cooperation with schools and teachers of private and public schools. We are no quitters and with the help of our friends surely will succeed one day!