On May 9th 2015, the World Health Organization declared Liberia the first of the “big three” African countries to be Ebola-free, ending for Liberia an epidemic which has swept across West Africa and claimed the lives of over 11,000 people. Guinea and Sierra Leone, the other two countries most affected by Ebola, continue to report new cases and battle the virus, but already, a group of rising high school seniors from New York City are making their way to Liberia to jumpstart the Liberian education system which had once again received a heavy blow from the epidemic during its gradual recovery from the effects of the Liberian civil war.
This group of four high school students, Alison Zhao, Michelle Chan, Amy Pan, and Edward Zhou, attend New York City’s prestigious Hunter College High School and are members of the I-HELP Liberia Project, a US-based organization founded in 1994 that aims to improve math and science education in Liberia. Founded by students, the organization’s efforts to aid Liberian education have occurred both overseas and domestically, as several trips to Liberia have been made in the past in addition to numerous fundraising events within the city, such as benefit concerts and shoe drives.
I-HELP has sent aid to several Liberian schools, such as the Booker Washington Institute, through the shipment of educational materials including laboratory equipment, computers, and textbooks. I-HELP has also run math and science workshops hosted by Hunter students in Liberia. I-HELP Liberia also plays an active role in the activities of the Liberian community in New York, the Liberian Mandingo Association of New York, and the Nimba County Association of New York. The I-HELP Liberia Project is also sensitive to changes in the Liberian community: in light of the recent Ebola outbreak, I-HELP hosted a benefit concert dedicated to the theme of using science education to spread awareness about Ebola, which included a stimulating forum discussion led by experts in public health and immunology. In addition, the I-HELP Project at Hunter held a drive for health and sanitary supplies to ship to Liberian hospitals.
The I-HELP Liberia organization has members from across the country, comprised of many graduates of Hunter College High School from the last two decades. These graduates hold a range of leadership positions at American universities, hospitals, and major corporations.
Mr. Asumana Jabateh Randolph, the faculty advisor of the organization, said, “As you learn, also learn to give to others.”
Liberian education has frequently received the short end of the stick for the past thirty years, as the country was ravaged first by two civil wars which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands and most recently has been the victim of the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history. Throughout the civil war, chances for education were scarce and schools were scoured for science equipment, leaving educational facilities in a dearth of materials to work with. In July 2014, the education system that had slowly been recovering was once again halted as schools were formally closed at the outbreak of the devastating Ebola virus, with no plans of continuing education.
Now, with schools back in session, these four students, inspired by Mr. Randolph, a Liberian himself, are determined to get the Liberian school system back on its feet. This summer, they will be travelling to Liberia on a trip that had been in the works since last year but had to be postponed due to the Ebola outbreak. They will be working with Liberia’s Ministry of Education to hold workshops and teach lessons throughout the country, including educational sessions on the Ebola virus and its prevention. They will also be hosting a Science Bowl tournament, a popular extracurricular activity among high school students in the United States and which they partake in at Hunter, to foster interest and dedication to science education in Liberian students. Michelle, Amy, Alison, and Edward will leave in Liberia laptops and laboratory equipment to provide resources for Liberian teachers to continue our efforts of taking science education in Liberia to higher levels.