“Focusing On The Youth To Make A Difference”
Keynote Address Delivered By Mr. Checago Bright-Sawo
Founder & CEO, Checago Bright Foundation, Inc.
Given to the Liberian Association of Connecticut, August 10, 2013
On the Occasion of the Celebration of Liberia’s 166th Independence Anniversary
I’m indeed deeply honored to serve as your Keynote Speaker for the 166th Independence Day celebration of the Republic of Liberia.
Kind regards to President Joseph Morris Kalapelle, Vice President; Rev. Phillip S. Blamo, and all of the members of the Liberian Community Association of Connecticut for the invitation to be a part of this auspicious event.
A special salute to the committee members that dedicated their time and efforts to organize this important event. I can truly appreciate the hard work and dedication that go into organizing events such as this, especially as it relates to our beloved “Mama” Liberia.
When I was first asked to speak at this event about “Youth Empowerment,” my initial thought was how am I supposed to speak to the youth when I am still young and learning myself? Seriously, am I not still young? …. Hahaha!
But then I realized, being young and vibrant are just parts of my story and strength. I believe that being young is a state of mind, and that all of us no matter our age, can share and speak to the lives and experiences of our Liberian youth.
Many people got it wrong when they felt that Liberia's problems disappeared when the fourteen-year civil war ended with the October 2005 elections. The war left Liberia's children totally disadvantaged: many are the ex-combatants, unskilled with no jobs, orphaned, abandoned street children. Left unskilled and unprepared for future responsibilities – Liberia’s marginalized youth represents our biggest challenge for reconstruction.
The youth constitutes approximately 65% of the total population of Liberia. This block of young people cannot be ignored – It is vital that we keep the youth focus and positive through training, capacity building and skills-based training, such as in carpentry, cosmetology, masonry, agriculture, plumbing, metal work and allied healthcare training. This could steer them away from a life of petty crimes, drugs, boredom, prostitution and other vices, so they can become economically self-reliant and agents of peace; better positioned to rebuild their lives and actively participate in the reconstruction of their country.
As the global modernization gathers pace, it becomes compelling at the moment that we bridge the gap between our rich cultural heritage and the world in which our youth now reside. Remember, most of our youth in Liberia suffered serious trauma due to their first-hand experience of the evil and anarchy produced by years of civil strife. Many lost their loved ones and continue to suffer the aftermath of their searing experiences.
This challenging reality should guide our focus for the future. That is why we cannot forget the need to develop the most important resource in our community- our youth—who are truly the guardians of our nation’s posterity, especially with the rapidly evolving nature of technology in today’s world.
With the World Wide Web: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc., new ideas and information are now widespread; the world is now the new classroom. To teach, motivate and inspire a group of people that have access to this amount of information is going to require unconventional and innovative methods.
Whilst we are blessed with so many advances in technology, it is now more important than ever to lift the spirits of the young men and women of Liberia. The youth of today are exposed to things that their age group 10 years ago could only dreamed of. Even though they may not have access to computers, Internet and other things we take for granted here in America, we must find ways to ensure that they are fully aware of their responsibility to build their community, and their country. These efforts should not be ignored and we must develop a plan to assist them in doing so.
Sadly, the government of Liberia is yet to achieve the capacity to effectively absorb the huge number of young people into the mainstream of economic activities.
As we celebrate Liberia’s 166th Independence, let’s remember where we came from and where we are going as a people – my story, your story, and your story—are our stories of resilience in the face of immense difficulties; a story of the will to succeed against overwhelming odds.
As a young man, I, like many Liberians, saw the evils of war first hand; I survived, managed to get to the United States via the Buduburam Refugee Camp in Ghana, and built a new life as a refugee from scratch. I attended graduate school at Columbia University; graduated Magna Cum Laude, and got a decent job. But I wasn’t satisfied.
I knew that if it hadn’t been for God’s blessings and me applying myself, I could have been in Liberia, and like many Liberians, have no access to safe drinking water, sanitary facilities or life’s basic necessities. So, I took it upon myself to help my fellow Liberian and give back to our homeland and help the youth in the process. But instead of just thinking and talking about it, I decided to be about it! I started a Foundation; the Checago Bright Foundation, Inc.
Annually, I take my vacation plus a leave of absence from my regular job for two months and travel to Liberia to be actively and physically involved in the process of aiding several communities that lack access to the adequate supply of basic services such as clean pipe-borne drinking water, sanitation (toilet facilities), and education programs.
What is unique about our Foundation is we understand that it is imperative that we allow the people of Liberia to take ownership and be the driving force behind their developments and projects. Who better to know the needs than our brothers and sisters who face these challenges daily? In order for Liberia to be rebuilt, we need all hands on deck and that requires a lot of sacrifices to see a prosperous Mama Liberia.
Since 2010, we have implemented a host of water and sanitation projects that have benefited hundreds of men, women and children in Monrovia and rural Liberia.
Interestingly, these results have been achieved without the financial support of any major organization or grants. These outcomes have been achieved solely through the generous and kind hearted donations of Liberians and friends of Liberia like you. These donations along with events sponsored by the Foundation such as our annual gala’s have been our source of revenue to complete this life changing work.
To the youth of Liberia, may I remind you that we live in a time when to be young no longer means you have a license to be indifferent to the needs and demands of your nation. You must prepare yourselves to take on the mantle of the future because you embody the future. You are the catalyst to drive the economy and consolidate the fragile peace we now enjoy. In-spite of the many challenges, Liberia depends on you and needs you now more than ever! I urge you to be responsible citizens and active participants in rebuilding our country. Hold your government accountable, commend when commendable and condemn when condemnable.
To the older generation of Liberia, let’s keep the lessons of the past in mind, as we look towards the future. We must relate to the needs of the younger generation even by finding ways to be “cool”! For example, being open to listen, share activities, empathize with their plights, etc. in order to grab the attention and motivate the youth.
So I ask you to join me in giving a big thank you to the Liberian Community Association of Connecticut for working to help our fellow Liberians through their humanitarian efforts. The Association’s work amply demonstrates that each of us can work in little ways to bring small but meaningful changes to the lives of others.
As I conclude, I would like to leave these following thoughts with you: Let’s seize the moment and be part of a grand movement to make our country all it can be! It only takes one person to make the difference in the lives of many!
To our youth, let me remind you that contrary to conventional wisdom: you can be both young and wise. Take, therefore, the promise of happiness, the sense of invincibility with which youth imbues you, and translate them into substantial accomplishments that transcends time and place and speak to generations of Liberians yet unborn. For example; self-preparation, positive role models, and have a sense of what I like to call “Weness,” I mean Liberianess-that we are all in this together.
Do not lose your idealism about the endless possibilities of life. But be grounded in the practical realities of devoting your boundless youthful energy to making those possibilities come true.
We all know that the challenges facing Liberia are huge and can seem daunting. However, I stand before you as a living example of how one committed person can make a difference. I encourage you; NO! I implore you to be an integral part of your community. We cannot sit idly by and wait for others to do what we must, and can do for ourselves.
As we do so, let’s keep in mind the words of Robert Kennedy when he said: “some see things as they are and ask ‘why’? I dream of things as they ought to be and ask “why not? Yes, let us dream of Liberia as it ought to be: a peaceful, united, democratic and prosperous society, faithful to its historic mission as beacon of what is possible in Africa, and ask why not?
Long live Liberia, happy land, a home of glorious Liberty by God’s Command.
Released and published with permission from Checago Bright Sawo.