The University Consortium for Liberia‘s annual scholarship fundraiser and education forum held at Georgia State University on Oct. 9 focused this year on early childhood education in the West African nation.
The education of children in the country’s elementary grades has been affected negatively by a combination of factors including the ebola crisis in 2014-15, widespread malnutrition, illiteracy and a lack of educational materials.
Cynthia Blandford, the honorary consul general of Liberia for the Southeast U.S., told Global Atlanta that the consortium is determined to support the country’s elementary school programs by harnessing the experience of four local institutions with extensive expertise in early childhood education.
According to Ms. Blandford , Clark Atlanta, Georgia State, Georgia Gwinnett and Fort Valley State universities, all members of the consortium, are leading institutions in the field of childhood education and are to participate in programs to assist in what she called Liberia’s “state of emergency.”
Ms. Bladford is the founder of the consortium, which she first organized in 2009. It now counts among its members Alabama State University, Clark Atlanta University, Emory University, Fort Valley State University, Georgia Gwinnett College, Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University, Kennesaw State University, Morehouse School of Medicine, Savannah State University, Tuskegee University, the University of Georgia and Morehouse College.
Wolfgang Schlor, senior international officer at Georgia State, underscored the university’s commitment to the consortium, adding that 32 of its 3,000 foreign students from 140 countries are from Liberia.
Alton V. Kesselly, deputy minister for planning and research development at Liberia’s Ministry of Education, said in his address that only $539,660 were allocated for childhood education in the country’s national education budget of $46,367,943. The country’s entire national budget is $570,148,000.
“We didn’t know childhood education was in such dire need,” Ms. Blandford said referring to the limited budget covering 5,080 schools and 14,311 teachers for 539,660 early childhood education students.
Dr. Kesselly joined a panel discussion following his address including Sia Barbara Ferguson Kamara of Liberia’s Ministry of Education, Ophelia Weeks, president of the University of Liberia and Stacey Yvonne French-Lee of Georgia State’s College of Education and Human Development.
The consortium has had a longstanding commitment to education and provides scholarships annually to applicants who wish to study at Liberian institutions. The recipients of this year’s $1,000 scholarships were students from Vanderbilt University, John Marshall Law School, Clark Atlanta University and the University of California, Santa Barbara.
It also presents “distinguished service and community service awards” annually. Ronald A. Johnson, president of Clark Atlanta University, William De Baets, Belgium‘s consul general for the Southeast and Christophe Allard, general manager of the Americas Eurowings Group, were honored at this year’s event.
Dr. Johnson was honored for Clark Atlanta’s role in hosting for five consecutive years participants in the Young African Leaders Initiative with eight of the emerging business and entrepreneurial leaders coming from Liberia. The university also is providing the opportunity for University of Liberia doctoral students to receive their degrees from Clark Atlanta.
Mr. De Baets and Mr. Allard were honored for the travel discounts to Liberia that Brussels Airlines is providing for participants in consortium programs. Brussels Airlines continued to fly to Liberia when many others refused to during the ebola crisis.
Mr De Baets said that the airline’s support for travel to Africa was in keeping with Belgium’s commitment to the continent. “Next year Belgium will be on the U.N. Security Council as a non-permanent member,” he said. “And we don’t want Africa to be forgotten.”
Ms. Blandford said that she is heading a group that will be attending graduation ceremonies at the University of Liberia in December in support of the early childhood programs as well as start-up business initiatives that the consortium has been encouraging.
Nigeria’s consul general, Kayode Laro; Georgia Senator State Senator Donzella James of District 35; Emmet Dennis, president emeritus of the University of Liberia; Lois Richardson, senior associate to the president, Georgia Gwinnett College; Phillip Talboy of the Talboy Foundation and Tony Harris, journalist and filmmaker, also participated in the forum.
Ms. Blandford may be reached by email at email@example.com or by calling the consulate at 404-565-1134.