Liberian Assistance Program, Inc.

Building schools and hope for Liberians

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Barack Obama International Foundation School

The Barack Obama School is in its 9th year of operation, with approximately 300 students in Pre-K through the ninth grade. The school has a staff of 20, including the principal, 14 teachers, a registrar, a computer/clerical person, a security guard/custodian, a cook and a part-time nurse.​​​​​​

The Obama School opened in September 2011, enrolling over 200 children in grades K-6. The cement-block building now has eight classrooms, two offices, a cafeteria, a septic system, bathrooms and a well, all funded by the Liberian Assistance Program, through the support of friends and several grants from groups such as the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of WI-Madison. LAP also furnished the classrooms with desks and tables, bookshelves and the Ministry of Education’s recommended school textbooks.

The school’s name, Barack Obama International Foundation School, was chosen by the principal and parents to honor their ties to America. Like most Africans, they were excited about the election of an American president whose roots are, in part, in Africa. 

In the summer of 2017, LAP paid to rewire the Obama School so that the school could become part of country’s electrical network. Electricity allows students to see much better in their classrooms during the rainy season.
Starting the school day
Jesse Kekula, Principal 
Eighth grade students sit in some of the 39 metal desks donated to the school by Friendship International of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.
Phonics lesson
Water Pump
Obama's soccer coach visits with students at school.

Excellent Teachers Serve Obama School

The Obama School has excellent teachers. Most of those hired when the school opened in 2011 are still there, while new teachers have joined the staff as the school has grown. Principal Kekula sets standards and expectations high, while treating staff with respect. Teachers are paid on time and encouraged to expand their own skills through in-service programs and outside educational courses.​​​​​​​​​​​​

LAP has paid the tuition of five Obama School teachers to attend two years of classes at LICOSSES, a school in Monrovia that provides post-high school education and teacher training. We also paid the tuition for the enrollment of two teachers in a course of study for C Certification, a program necessary for teachers to advance in Liberia. 
Teachers and Principal Kekula
photo by David Korte©dkortephoto
Two Obama School teachers attend C-Certification Program.
An in-service class is held for all Obama teachers.

Sports at Obama School

LAP believes that participation in sports or recreation is important for students at the Obama School and we have supported such activities by paying for equipment for soccer, kickball, volleyball and basketball for boys and girls. For several years, a LAP supporter has sent funding earmarked for sports. Those gifts have made it possible for the school to buy uniforms for the boys’ soccer team and for the girls’ kickball team, as well as soccer shoes, soccer balls and kick balls. The school competes in area school competitions and frequently wins trophies. 
PE Class at Obama School
photo by David Korte©dkortephoto

Summer Reading Program

Thanks to a grant from the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of WI-Madison to buy books and teaching materials, LAP began a summer reading program at the Obama School in 2013. Designed for K-3rd grade students, more than 100 children, from the area, not just Obama School students, attend three days a week for four weeks in July or August. Teachers read aloud to groups of 8-10 children and discuss books and act out stories. The children are also served a snack. Beginning in the summer of 2017, 4th-6th grade children are now participating in the Summer Reading Program. 
Children at the Obama School show the books they received for the Summer Reading Program.
Three children act out a story they were read at the Summer Reading Program. 
LAP members go over the books to be mailed for the Summer Reading Program.

Obama School’s Lunch Program

LAP is providing lunch for 300 students and 20 staff members at the Obama School each day of the week. The program began in February, 2015 with twice-a-week meals of rice and a soup of bony fish, pinto beans and greens. It expanded to five days a week in 2018-19 with the addition of meals of Power Gari, a product developed by a company in California, designed to provide nutritious food at inexpensive costs for low income people around the world. Power Gari is made in Liberia from cassava and includes vitamins and various flavors. ​​​​​

LAP has also provided the Obama School’s food program with two safe, energy efficient, wood burning stoves made by an American company called InStove. The stoves are designed for locations where women often cook on open fires, which are dangerous for burns and breathing. The school hires two cooks to prepare the food each week. 
Waiting in line to be served lunch
photo by David Korte©dkortephoto
Students pick up their food in cafeteria.
photo by David Korte©dkortephoto
The Obama cooks, Mamie Tokpah 
and Barbra Paye

photo by David Korte©dkortephoto
Cooks at Obama School use new stoves LAP sent for the school food program. 
photo by David Korte©dkortephoto

Scholarships for Students

LAP currently provides 52 scholarships for students in Liberia. Of those, 40 are students at the Obama School. We also support eight high school students, two students at other elementary schools and two college students.

Scholarships are a top priority for LAP since many Liberian families cannot afford the tuition and fees for their children to go to school. Government schools in Liberia can serve only about half of the nation’s elementary student population and thus, private schools, supported by nongovernmental or religious organizations, provide classrooms for many of the remaining children. Costs to attend those schools vary considerably, but at the Obama School, LAP has worked with the principal to keep tuition, fees and uniform costs at a level that families can afford while providing a reasonable salary for teachers.
 
School costs for one child are between $100-$150 per year at the Obama School. But even at that amount, many of the poorest children in the village of Cow Field often cannot afford to attend. Thus we began our scholarship program.

As long as our scholarship students have passing grades and are attending regularly, LAP will continue to support them until they graduate from the ninth grade at the Obama School. 
Scholarship students at the Obama School. Fifteen are supported by a grant from the Rotary of Madison West and the rest are supported by individuals donors to LAP. 
Rachel Smith, with her mother, received a scholarship from LAP during most of her years at the Obama School and through high school in the Cow Field area. She has applied for a LAP scholarship to college.

College Scholarships

Massia Kerkulah
LAP is currently supporting two new college students. One is Massia Kerkulah, who is beginning her studies at Starz College of Science and Technology. Massia was a LAP scholarship student from the seventh through the twelfth grades. In college, she is interested in majoring in management information systems. 
The other new college student is Sampson Sumo. He is attending Cuttington College in Suakoko, Liberia. He too was a LAP scholarship student in high school. He plans to major in nursing. Sampson’s father John Sumo was one of Judy’s students from the years she taught as a Peace Corps volunteer.

In previous years, LAP supported two other college students. The first was Abbas Sherif who attended the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana from 2009-13. He majored in actuarial science and graduated as the college’s top science student. He completed a master’s degree in math at Stellenbosch University in South Africa on a scholarship from the Liberian government and with support from several LAP friends. Abbas is now working on his PhD in math at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, in Durban, South Africa. He is focusing on the study of the nature of space-time singularities (black holes).

The second student was Euphemia Sumo who graduated in early 2018 from the A.M.E. Zion University in Monrovia. She majored in accounting and is now looking for employment. LAP has supported two of Euphemia’s children as well— daughter Weekie Gonleh, who graduated from high school in 2015 and Nenlesch Gonleh, who graduated from high school in 2018.

photo by Lyn Howell Gray
LAP Scholarship student Sampson Sumo, center, is attending Cuttington College. His father John Sumo, one of Judy’s students from the years she taught as a Peace Corps volunteer, is on the left.
Abbas Sherif 
LAP scholarship student Euphemia Sumo, with her family and LAP chair, Judy Reed, in 2014.

Vocational Classes in Sewing

Adult Vocational Class in Sewing  
LAP began an adult education program in sewing at the Obama School in 2017. The goal of the project is to assist adults in developing skills in sewing and business so that they can become employable in the tailoring field in Liberia. Through grants from the Episcopal Diocese of Wisconsin and the Returned Peace Corps volunteer of WI-Madison, the program was able to buy nine manual sewing machines in Monrovia. We gained two more when LAP friends in Madison gave us their manual machines to send aboard Friendship International’s shipment to Liberia in November, 2017. Approximately 40 adults, mostly women, have attended the sewing classes led by a professional tailor. A new class will begin in the fall of 2019.

Student Vocational Class in Sewing
In the 2019-20 school year, students in grades 7-9 will also be able to take a class in sewing. A new tailor has been hired to teach the class, along with leading the adult class. LAP will pay for the instruction and supplies needed in the class.
Tailor Sammy Kollie cuts fabric.
photo by David Korte©dkortephoto
photo by David Korte©dkortephoto
Students at work
photo by David Korte©dkortephoto

Supporting the Tubman School and Gbonkonimah

LAP has long wanted to help the Tubman School in Gbonkonimah, Liberia. It was the school where four LAP supporters taught school as Peace Corps volunteers in the 1960s and had not been repaired for many years. A committee headed by Obama School Principal Jessie Kekula (who grew up in Gbonkonmah) visited the village and met with school leaders and community members to discuss the needs of the school and village. The committee sent its report with recommendations to LAP and the board agreed to begin making repairs to the school. ​​

Starting in January of 2019, doors were replaced and repairs were made to the windows, ceilings and the roof of the school. With a 2019 grant from the RPCVs of WI-Madison and with additional gifts from LAP supporters, latrines were completed just in time for the 2019-20 school year. More than 300 students from the village and surrounding areas attend the K-9 school in the small village of not many more than 300. The lead carpenter on the repairs and latrine projects was a former student of the Peace Corps teachers from the 1960s.
The village of Gbonkonimah in 2014.  It looked much the same in 1964.
Women put their clothing out to dry.
The Tubman School in 1964
The principal of the Tubman School in Gbonkonimah visits with Jessie Kekula.
Children stand in front of a house, with hand prints on the walls.
Children stand by an old style chair.