Liberian Books Project

A short time ago, many children in Liberia were forced to choose between becoming child soldiers or starving. A group of students at Portland State are pitching in to give children the option of education.

A short time ago, many children in Liberia were forced to choose between becoming child soldiers or starving. A group of students at Portland State are pitching in to give children the option of education.

Portland State’s Model United Nations will join forces with the Liberian Literacy Foundation to provide educational resources to Liberia, a West African country that emerged from 14 years of civil conflict in 2003.

The LLF is an organization based in Detroit, Mich., that promotes literacy in Africa. The organization launched the Liberian Books Project in order to address the issues of poverty, unemployment and illiteracy in Liberia. The goal of the project is to establish 1,200 sustainable literary centers in Liberia, which will be equipped with used textbooks and teachers.

“The Liberian Literacy Project works to create these literacy centers, and they stock them with U.S. college textbooks, which they can collect from [PSUMUN],” said Kate Alexander, PSUMUN secretary of political organization. “Or they collect other books, which they can sell online so that they can buy textbooks in whatever language and whatever grade level they need.”

E. Victor Helb, Jr., a current student at Wayne State University, founded the LLF. He was born in Liberia and was nearly forced into the rebel army as a child. He said that many Liberian children must choose between the army and starvation.

“There are so many [Liberian] children who are pressured into picking up arms and becoming child soldiers,” Helb said. “I had my own education interrupted by civil conflict. Luckily, my family found me before I was forced to make that decision.”

At the age of 12, Helb’s family sent him to the U.S.

“I knew I left behind so many [children] who weren’t as lucky. Living in the U.S., I felt compelled to help those children. That’s part of how the project was born,” Helb said.

The project began as part of Helb’s thesis project, titled “Ratification of extreme poverty through sustainable education.”

He asked for support from Liberia’s first elected female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Liberia’s minister of education, Joseph Korto. According to Helb, both were very excited about the project.

“We wanted to ensure [the project] would sustain the test of time,” Helb said.

The LLF, in an effort to promote sustainable education, will also collect funds through their campaign to provide renewable electricity and clean drinking water to the schools in Liberia. Helb has asked campus bookstores across the country to buy back textbooks and donate 12 percent of their proceeds to the project.

According the LLF Web site, renewable electricity sources generate renewable energy certificates, which can be sold to high polluters as renewable energy offsets. The revenue will be used toward teacher salaries and the maintenance of the literacy center. This includes the implementation of wireless Internet, a resource that will benefit the entire community surrounding the center by creating general literacy, health literacy and job skills training.

The Liberian Books Project reflects the goals of the United Nations Millennium Development Challenge of 2015, which is committed to providing universal education to underdeveloped countries while combating poverty, Helb said.

“The Millennium Campaign was a huge part of the Stand Up event that our Model U.N. [participated in] earlier this year, and that was to support the Millennium Development goals,” Alexander said. “One of them is achieving universal primary education and promoting universal secondary education. So our work with [the LLF] ties in with that.”

Stand Up 2009 was designed to achieve the Millennium Development goals. A recorded 173,045,325 people took part in the campaign, according to the Stand Up Web site.

Helb said that the Liberian Books Project will serve as a model program for the Millennium Development goals. The LLF strives to build the 1,200 literacy centers by 2015. Afterwards, the LLF will continue the effort by expanding the project to other impoverished areas throughout the world.

PSUMUN originally planned to hold an event on Feb. 22 with a panel discussion, alongside Helb, entitled “Sustainable Education for Africa.” However, the event has been postponed to a later date due to travel restrictions placed on Helb.

Helb is anxious to visit PSU, and hopes he will be able to do so by the end of March.

“I’m incredibly excited. I think that the [Portland] community is really structured for something like this project,” Helb said.

In January, PSUMUN collected over 260 used books, which were then sent to the LLF. The group is still accepting donations and plans to place drop-off bins throughout campus.

“I think that it is really good for PSU to be more aware that they are having an effect internationally,” said Tasia-Jana Tanginoa, PSUMUN’s secretary general. “This will give the student body a chance to see what [PSUMUN] is doing for other countries.”

PSUMUN is a student-run group that takes part in simulations of United Nations institutions in order to broaden understanding in areas of international cooperation, debate, negotiation and conflict resolution, according to PSUMUN’s Web site. It currently has 20 active members.

“[PSUMUN] hopes to bring international awareness to the PSU community and to the Portland metro area. We believe that education is the way to peace,” Tanginoa said.

For more information on how to help PSUMUN donate to the LLF, contact [email protected]
Visit www.liberianbooks.org for additional news regarding the LLF.