Never Too Late to Get an Education in Liberia

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In Liberia, a country recovering from years of instability, education has emerged as one of the government’s top priorities. Volunteer educator Danielle Zemmel shares her experience working in Liberia’s schools.

Being the product of American suburbia, I grew up in a two-parent middle-class American household in America’s Mid-West and never lacked anything.

I always had more than enough food and clothing, and I was the fortunate recipient of a good education. I went to a good public school in a good district and had all the resources, materials, support, and opportunities that an individual could, and should be, provided with. Money was never a determining factor in the quality of education I received.

Presently, I am a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia, West Africa, and here, money is always the determining factor in the quality of education an individual can receive. Most students that live in communities outside of Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, do not have access to basic supplies, save for a few supplies in the local market.

Many students come to school without adequate supplies, comfortable clothing or enough to eat, and yet they are still eager to learn and allow their curiosity to drive them.

Students ask questions, ask for help when they need it, and aim to please. Even if they do not necessarily perform well on exams or assignments, they can still be successful. Success here cannot always be measured by grades. I evaluate success (and the effectiveness of the Peace Corps’ role in the improvement of the Liberian education system) based on how engaged my students are in class, how much I believe they will retain the information, and how much their overall academic practices are improving, such as study- and test-taking skills.

I also measure success by how much an individual can grow and become more confident in themselves and in the work they produce. I know I am not going to change the world serving as a Volunteer here; it’s simply unrealistic. However, if I can help a handful of students succeed—specifically the female students—then my time spent here will have been worth it.

Teaching junior and senior high school biology classes as part of an expanding  presence of Peace Corps, which are now in 15 of the 16 counties in the country has been a rewarding experience. It is expected that volunteers will soon we be in all 55 secondary schools.

Working with the people here, we hope to provide students with the Math, Science, and English education they so desperately need. Yes, life here is extremely difficult; each day is a struggle to survive.

However, the Liberian people do not let their reality get them down. They are still determined to receive an education and are appreciative of any help they have. While progress is occurring slowly, students are committed to receiving an education and contributing to the improvement of their country. The spirit and hope of the Liberian people is what prevails, and seeing the smiles on the faces of my students makes each day worth being here.