By Samuel Enders, Rotary Club of Yonkers-East Yonkers, New York, USA
Having grown up in poverty in Liberia, West Africa, I know firsthand both the dire need for better educational opportunities in that country and the empowerment that a quality education provides. As the youngest of nine children, I experienced the death of my father when I was just two months old. Simply to survive, I routinely searched through garbage cans for food. Other necessities, such as clothing, were hard to come by. Healthcare and education were unaffordable and out of reach. In fact, by the age of 15, I had only managed to receive a third grade education. My challenges were only compounded as Liberia succumbed to a bloody civil war that ravaged the country’s economy, infrastructure and its people. Unfortunately, my early childhood experience mirrors that of so many children across Liberia — and much of Africa — even today.
Through determination and providence, today I am very fortunate to have obtained a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership and a master’s degree in Divinity and Education. Currently a resident of New York City, I am pursuing an M.B.A. Now my greatest passion, and the cause to which I have dedicated my life, is to help Liberia’s youth of today escape Liberia’s iron grip of poverty through education.
I founded African Dream Academy (ADA) in 2005. From 2005 to 2011, ADA provided counseling to 6,000 Liberian children for two week periods several times a year to inspire them to reach their dreams and to educate them in the life skills they desperately need. In 2012 we opened our first fully academic school where we currently educate 140 children in classes from Nursery through the fourth grade.
My dream to educate the poor children of Liberia has been temporarily overshadowed by a greater priority: to keep them alive. The Ebola crisis in Liberia has been a tragic blow to a country already overwhelmed by poverty. Instead of worrying about my own safety and returning to the U.S. as all American volunteers have been advised to do, I organized 347 volunteers to go out into the community to educate people about prevention and to supply containers of chlorinated water to encourage hand washing. People lack knowledge about the disease and they don’t have running water. As school will not be able to open until Ebola is under control, the plan is for teachers to work with the ADA children in their neighborhoods, distributing work, correcting it and teaching the children in small groups until the government deems it safe for schools to open.
People are calling me from all over the country—they want to be educated about the disease and get the materials they need to wash their hands and stay safe. So far, we’ve reached 10,000 homes in 20 communities with materials and training for safe water and hygiene. We’ve provided emergency food and medical assistance to our ADA students, teachers, and the blind community. We also donated an ambulance to the one and only Ebola center in the country, ELWA hospital (which is about half a mile away from the school), as it did not have one and this greatly hampered the effort to fight the disease.
I took action as a Rotarian, a Liberian, and a human being to make a difference. The work is overwhelming. I am asking my fellow Rotarians and people around the world to give me and my volunteers hope and support. You can help support this effort by contributing here. No gift is too small.