Submitted by Justin Prudhomme – USAID/Liberia

How do you celebrate International Literacy Day in a country where half the population cannot read and literacy is often viewed with suspicion?

This was what the staff of USAID’s mission in Liberia wrestled with as we prepared to acknowledge International Literacy Day on September 8th.

Beneficiaries of the Ambassador's Girl's Scholarship Program in Liberia Photo Credit: USAID/Liberia

During the civil conflict years, Liberia’s education system quickly deteriorated as fighting erupted throughout the country. Rebel factions frequently targeted schools as places to recruit soldiers, taking children who should have been getting an education and plying them with drugs and guns, and conscripting them into combat units to fight in one of Africa’s most brutal conflicts.

Today substantial progress has been made in rebuilding the education system thanks in part to USAID’s Core Educational Skills for Liberian Youth (CESLY) project, implemented by Education Development Centers (EDC) and Research Triangle Institute (RTI).

Yet there is still work to be done and challenges to face, including limited resources, few qualified teachers, and a negative stigma attached to education, evidenced by a recent politician who announced his candidacy for president by promising to exclude ‘book people’ from his administration.

However, USAID/Liberia and our partners understand that in order to achieve real success, we need to change the way Liberians view education.  By ensuring that children have engaging materials to read and unlocking their passion for learning, we can teach the next generation the value of education so that they to can become advocates in their own communities. And so, to celebrate International Literacy Day CESLY is launching a writing contest across all 266 schools they support.

Students in the USAID Accelerated Learning Program Plus in Liberia Photo Credit: Creative Associates International Inc

Students will compete to write short, original stories about their lives, their communities, and the traditions of their elders.  CESLY is inviting students and guests to read stories aloud in schools, and will present each site with a new dictionary.  The winning stories will be published and distributed to students across the country to show the importance of literature by Liberian authors.

Literacy in Liberia can improve and involving young Liberians is the best way to do that.