(Monrovia, June 27, 2016) –First Lady Michelle Obama visited Liberia today to highlight the importance of girls’ education and make new commitments on behalf of the U.S. Government to the Let Girls Learn initiative.
While in Liberia, the First Lady met with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who has made the education of girls a cornerstone of development in Liberia during her tenure. The First Lady also visited a Peace Corps training facility and a local school outside of Monrovia, where she met with girls and young women who are overcoming obstacles to getting an education. The First Lady’s visit underscores the importance of educating adolescent girls who hold the key to a strong, resilient and prosperous Liberia, particularly in the wake of the devastating 2014 Ebola outbreak. Today, nearly two-thirds of Liberia’s school-aged children do not attend class, and adolescent girls face serious barriers to education due to poverty, cultural norms, early childbearing, forced marriage, and gender-based violence.
Let Girls Learn is a U.S. government initiative to address these obstacles facing adolescent girls, encompassing support, programing and partnerships across the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, Peace Corps, and Millennium Challenge Corporation, while working closely with host governments such as the Government of Liberia.
A longtime partner of Liberia, the Government of the United States announced today a series of new actions to advance education and opportunities for adolescent girls. Through the U.S. Agency for International Development, the United States will dedicate up to $27 million in funding to directly support Let Girls Learn through a series of new commitments. Specifically:
- USAID is launching a Let Girls Learn Challenge, and will work with the Government of Liberia and NGO partners to create, design, and invest in the research, development, piloting, and testing of innovative, practical and cost-effective projects to advance adolescent girls’ education.
- USAID also announced a new Accelerated Quality Education Programto increase enrollment and access to safe education. This will include activities to reduce and prevent school-related gender-based violence.
- USAID will expand on its work to provide out-of-school youth, including adolescent girls, with improved access to basic education and training in work readiness, technical skills and leadership development. At the same time, it will advance a public-private partnership to support the expansion of the Liberia School for the Blind to include a separate dormitory for adolescent girls.
In addition, the Peace Corps will continue working closely with the Government of Liberia and local communities to open doors to education and empowerment for women and girls by:
- Organizing and running Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) Camps, funded by USAID’s Small Projects Assistance Fund, where 35 Liberian girls (age 16-25) work together to become role models to others in their schools and communities. The goal of the program is to empower girls by providing them with the tools to gain knowledge, skills, and attitudes to become successful, strong, confident women and to promote safe, healthy, and stronger communities.
- Partnering with the Ministry of Education to conduct “Student Friendly Schools” workshops with principals and educators on the importance of providing a safe place for girls to learn, lesson planning and other professional development opportunities.
- Placing Peace Corps Volunteers to teach high school math and science classes, assisting the Ministry of Education in ensuring students across Liberia have access to math and science education to prepare them for post-high school education and employment.
- Preparing Peace Corps trainees – currently 51 – with in-depth information on gender-based activities to ready them to empower young girls and educate young boys to help create understanding and opportunities for girls to aspire to reach their dreams.
The U.S. Department of State will continue existing efforts to help adolescent girls access education, stay in school, and develop their leadership potential:
- The Department of State supports a non-profit organization in Liberia called Touching Humanity in Need of Kindness (THINK). THINK provides a variety of services and facilities to women and girls, many of whom have been commercial sex workers, the victims of trafficking, survivors of gender-based violence, or separated from their families because of war. It operates a rehabilitation and empowerment home that provides a nine-month rotational program of shelter, protection, medical care, counseling, academic classes and vocational training to 25 girls and 10 of their under-five children.
- Through its exchange programs, the U.S. Department of State also provides girls and young women with opportunities to develop leadership skills. At the time of the First Lady’s visit, five Liberian female college students are in a five-week program on women’s leadership at the University of Delaware, two are returning from an academic year in American high schools, and a dozen are at various U.S. universities as part of the Mandela Washington Fellows Program, President Obama’s flagship engagement program with the young emerging leaders of Africa.
Knowing that lack of access to education can contribute to girls’ vulnerability to HIV, the United States, through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), will continue its work in Liberia:
- PEPFAR has invested over $35 million in Liberia, striving working with partners to achieve an AIDS-free generation. This investment has focused on HIV prevention and treatment and health systems that impact all segments of the population, particularly women and girls.
The United States and the Government of Liberia recognize that young women have the power to shape the future of Liberia. Both remain committed to remove barriers to education, including the social and gender norms that too often prevent girls from receiving an adequate education.