As we move into the holiday season of November and December I want to share a gift with you. What is the gift? Brief stories about women, young and old, who I have had the privilege of meeting and who have touched the lives of others.
THE BIKER, THE TEACHER, A WOMAN YOU LOOK UP TO
Many Liberian men and women are not necessarily tall, so imagine when a 6 ft. woman walked on to the ABCU campus, a woman who carries herself with purpose and grace. Her name is Sylvia Reynolds, a recently retired principal who was Alaska’s Principal of the Year and served on Alaska’s State School Board. She is a dynamo, with a wealth of educational expertise. I continue to marvel that within a two-week period she went from conducting educational workshops in an Inuit village in the arctic to coming to hot steamy Yekepa, Liberia. What a woman! About six years ago she biked across the U.S. and is planning on taking the journey again to raise money through the Rotary Club to buy medical supplies for the Yekepa area.
The ABCU students, as well as community teachers, have responded to her teaching. I am especially pleased because we have one young man who is fairly imposing, and though he never caused me any trouble, I was afraid that he was going to graduate from ABCU without really internalizing what it means to be an effective educator. He is a natural leader, who could positively or negatively influence other teachers. Well, Sylvia stands eye-to-eye with him and he has found a “soul mate.” This is so exciting to see because I believe that Sylvia is finally bringing out his potential. Through watching her, he is able to understand what it means to be a servant leader in the educational setting.
Sylvia is a “can do” person who takes on life full throttle. One of the things that I love about her is that retirement is not about sitting in a rocking chair, but about asking God what’s next. She is a poster child for living life to its fullest and thanking God for every opportunity He allows her to have.
I wish you could meet her; you would instantly like her.
A PLAYER ON THE WORLD’S STAGE
I, along with the Chinchens, had a meeting with Liberian’s U.S. Ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield. I took an instant liking to her when I entered her office. She immediately puts you at ease and engages you in conversation.
She is known as the “People’s Ambassador.” You can tell that she has a heart for the people with whom she works. She doesn’t stay in her office in the semi-comforts (using that word loosely) of Monrovia, but travels all over Liberia meeting with the people.
She is a spirited, imposing woman, who is willing to speak her mind and take actions on immoral activity. For example, if she finds that any of the U.S. hired contractors in Liberia are sleeping with prostitutes, which basically means sleeping with girls 11 to 18-years old, they are immediately shipped out of Liberia with no excuses accepted. I can’t begin to explain to you what a problem this is; it has been quoted that 70% of young Liberian girls under 18 have at least one child. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said that she went to one Liberian county and most of the girls at the meeting, who looked well under 18-years-old, had one baby in their arms and many were pregnant with another.
She also has been willing to address politicians who are trying to bilk the people in one way or the other. This is never easy in this fallen world, but one of the negative impacts of the Liberian civil war is the break down of the moral compass that helps to guide a society. The Ambassador shared the story about a man who worked as a driver for the U.S. Embassy. He found a check in the car that was to be delivered to another person. Instead of delivering it, the drive cashed it and took the money. When asked why he had done such a thing, he said that he thought that God had smiled on him that day and had let him find the check. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said that his words were frightening because the driver did not even recognize that what he had done was wrong.
On Sundays, it is said that you can find the Ambassador faithfully attending church in Monrovia. The sad news is that she has been in Liberia for more than three years and her appointment will soon be ending. The Liberian government specifically asked that her time be extended until after the election. When I questioned her about this she told us that it is best to stay for only three years in one spot, because by that time you know where all the dirt is hidden and you lose all diplomacy and tact in dealing with the nonsense.
What a spirited woman. Be on the lookout for her name because she will soon have another appointment. We need women like her serving our country.
[Why were we visiting the ambassador? After four years we have a solid educational program built that gives our students a strong pedagogical foundation. Now we need to start building specialty areas of concentration for our secondary students. The first areas I want to work on are math and science. This is not cheap to do but I am forging ahead, and trying to figure out how to raise money for a multi-functional science lab ($100,000.00 US) and to hire at least one full time science and math faculty for a five-year period until ABCU can be self-sustaining. We wanted to let her know what we were doing and see about possible funding resources.]