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The Real Story in Liberia

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Liberia once again captured international headlines, with former president, Charles Taylor, hearing his verdict in a courtroom in The Hague on April 26. Taylor was found guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity by supporting rebels in Sierra Leone in return for "blood diamonds." His sentence is scheduled to be announced on May 30. Although the Taylor verdict is drawing attention to Liberia once again, it is also a reminder of how far Liberia has come since that dark era. Liberia today has very little to do with Charles Taylor and the crimes he committed in the past. Instead, the story of Liberia today has everything to do with the Liberian people who, after enduring 14 years of civil war, have for a second time chosen 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as their president and are ready to work together to continue rebuilding a country that was not long ago considered by many to be a lost cause.

Just a few weeks ago, three members of my CHF International team in Washington were in Monrovia to work with their Liberian colleagues on a variety of projects from water and sanitation to youth engagement and female entrepreneurship -- and they were enthused by what they saw. They met with businessmen and women, students and community health workers, private contractors and government officials and were inspired by their stories and strong sense of purpose. All of these individuals were reassuring signs of how fast Liberia is moving toward a better future.

2012-05-23-liberiagreencenter2.jpgTake James Mulbah, president of Compost Liberia, a company that operates the country's first waste segregation and recycling center, sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. After receiving training in waste management and composting through CHF International, James and his friends won the bid to manage the recycling facility. At 26, James and 24 of his youth group friends are now proud business owners. Although in operation for only for a couple months, they have expanded their business to collect and recycle cans, bottles, paper bags and organic waste. Despite their young age, these young people have a vision and a strategy. James also has the passion and drive needed to succeed. In their mid-20s, many of them still remember the war and the many opportunities they may have lost. But with so much to achieve, there is no time to waste and they move forward quickly and firmly.

2012-05-23-shirley.jpgIn another part of town, Shirley Kais, 30, manages 10 staff in Monrovia's top beauty salon. The young entrepreneur has ambitious plans to open the country's first full-service spa in the near future. A decade ago, Shirley and her family lost all they had due to the civil war; so instead of going to college, she started working straight out of high school. But that did not deter her, and with the money saved, she opened a small salon. As demand for her services increased, she opened a bigger salon, two years ago, where her company has flourished. Bur Shirley wants more. Just a few months ago, she graduated from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Certificate Program for Women Entrepreneurs. The Monrovia native is living her dream, as she always wanted to have her own business while helping young women, much like herself, to get jobs and provide for their families.

So while Charles Taylor's trial and sentencing may be temporarily in the media spotlight, we should not lose sight of the Liberia of the present and the future. Based on what we have seen after working in the country for more than five years, I consider the real story of Liberia to be about James Mulbah and Shirley Kais and all the Liberians who, like James and Shirley, are passionate about their community and share a strong commitment to rebuilding their country through resilience and hard work. The story in Liberia today is not about the past, but about the future and the many opportunities that lie ahead.

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