President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf came to speak at the University of Minnesota as part of the Distinguished Carlson Lecture Series in April 2009. Her moving speech highlighted the importance of education and her Education Drive for Liberian Youth. After speaking with two International Fellows at the Humphrey Institute- Rosana Schaack, Humphrey Fellow, and Marc Amblard, Liberian Government Fellow, a plan for an arts-based community engagement program for Liberian youth was formed.
In 2010, 40 children from the Children’s Rescue Outreach Center Orphanage in Mt. Barclay, Liberia participated in the 2010 pilot program of B4 Youth Theatre courses. 24 of these children wrote and performed in an original play with music and dance. This process lasted seven weeks, and the final performance was held at City Hall in Monrovia during the eighth week. Among approximately 300 audience members, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and other government officials were in attendance.
Since the summer 2010 program, there have been continued cross-cultural literacy efforts and service learning between the children at the Children’s Rescue Outreach Center Orphanage and children in school in Covington, GA, USA and their first original play, Problems to Solve, was analyzed for its literary content by students in Harford County, Maryland. Liberian and American newspapers have covered cross-cultural service projects, outreach efforts, and community and national performances of this program. The play was broadcasted on Liberian television and advertised on national radio.
In 2011, B4 partnered with Calvary Empowerment Team’s Vacation Camp to provide arts education for an additional 60 children. Between the two program sites (Sinkor and Mt. Barclay), 120 children were served. The original site from Mt. Barclay has retained and improved upon the information they learned in math, literacy and the arts from the previous year as evidenced in written pre-test scores and performance assessments during the first week. Children from both sites were excited to voice their concerns through theatre as they feel that the concerns of young people are often overlooked. Two performances were held; one at Tubman High School in Sinkor and the other in Mt. Barclay at the orphanage. Participants had combined rehearsals in the final week and performed at both locations together thus bridging these two communities which contribute to peace-building efforts while exposing the children to the collaborative spirit of performing arts.
The 2012 production of B4YT was a tribute to the Liberia Children’s Law. Youth participants aimed to spread the news about the law and educate other children about their rights. Participant numbers were held constant at 120 with a 75% retention rate from the partnership with Calvary Empowerment Team and a 97% retention rate from the Children’s Rescue Outreach Center from the previous year. Additional students auditioned to fill available spots in the program.
These performances collectively raised approximately $3000 in donations that were used to pay program costs, as well as, school fees for some of the children. Partner organizations and sponsors include individuals, businesses, governmental and non-governmental organizations and a variety of institutions from Liberia, other West African countries and the United States.
Additionally, three previous participants from Mt. Barclay trained as Junior Arts Instructors learning about program design, curriculum and instruction, and a variety of pedagogical methods in the arts.
There are a number of helpful resources about Liberia’s history and culture. Some can be found here:
New York Times article on Liberian food: http://travel.nytimes.com/2010/06/20/travel/20PersonalJourney.html?ref=travel