[caption id="attachment_2783" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Lawoi mentoring young girls from the Amani Girls Club Lawoi mentoring young girls from the Amani Girls Club[/caption] Lawoi is a 27-year-old from Lofa County, Liberia. She is married and has a 6-year-old son, Tony. She is a junior education major at a university in Yekepa, Liberia, and a leader of the Amani Girls Club. Lawoi has a nursing degree, and originally came to college to pursue an additional degree in communications. But as she reflected on her past struggles, she realized she had a different contribution to make to the world. “In the rural Liberian setting, girls are being overlooked and used,” says Lawoi. She explains the many obstacles a girl must overcome just to receive a fair education. For example, bribery is a common practice in Liberia, even in elementary schools. “Teachers will come in class and make a test that is too hard with questions the students cannot answer. Then the teacher will say ‘if you don’t know it, fold your paper’, which means you should put money in it. I myself passed through this.” Lawoi didn’t use bribery to get good grades, but other students (who rarely attended class) were able to make higher grades just by paying their dues on test day. Lawoi’s desire to improve education for girls makes her a perfect fit for the Amani Girls Club. She believes passionately in finding a solution to the problems in Yekepa. “In this community, after the war, things became hard. No one had a job. By the grace of God, a mining company came in and gave many people jobs. But they cannot give everyone a job; poverty is still in the community.” In order to make ends meet, families sometimes pressure their daughters to engage in prostitution. “Our little sisters are growing up, and they say, ‘I saw my sister living a prostitute’s life, and my parents have nothing.’ So they will do the same.” Lawoi also explains the ripple effect that occurs when poverty forces girls drop out of school and engage in prostitution. For example, when Lawoi was working at the hospital as a nurse, she learned how high the HIV/AIDS rate had become in Yekepa. “It happens because of poverty,” she says simply, “girls are just doing things to survive.” And unfortunately, when a young girl leaves her education and risks health issues (and pregnancy), the cycle of poverty simply continues. “While they are still little, it is important to teach them,” says Lawoi. And that is exactly what Lawoi does several times each week. As the club grows, the leaders listen to the girls and their mothers about how the issues they face. Respecting oneself and others has become an ongoing lesson for the girls. “A girl, one of the smallest ones, was always insulting her grandmother,” explains Lawoi. Lawoi spoke with the girl about respecting others, and as a result, the girl was able to repair her relationship. “She said to her grandmother, ‘I will hold your feet’ (A phrase Liberians use when pleading with someone) and fixed it.” The best part? The girl did this in front of other girls in the community, not only providing a beautiful example of the power of the Amani Girls Club, but also Amani’s goal of promoting peace and reconciliation. A whole month was recently devoted to friendship. “The girls will sometimes “cut speech” (not speak) to each other because they are mad.” Each week, the group discussed how girls could encourage their friends to stay in school and maintain positive relationships with one another. Changes are already happening in Yekepa. During the course of this semester, many girls have become more confident. The first week, when the girls introduced them selves to the group, most spoke in voices barely audible and covered their faces with their hands in embarrassment. But now, almost every girl proclaims her name proudly---with confidence in her voice. The mothers in the community have begun to notice the changes, too. “When you pass their mothers in the street,” says Lawoi, “they say ‘thank you, thank you, thank you for the Girls Club!’” Lawoi plans to carry out her commitment to educating young children in the future. “Many children, especially orphans, are not even going to school; they are selling water on the streets just to survive. After I graduate, I want be able to take care of orphans from allover Liberia by opening my own school. I want to care for these children, by the grace of God. So that’s my dream.” To learn more or donate to the Elizabeth Sumwabe Scholarship Fund, click here.

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