Inspire! with Laura Golakeh: One Way Ticket to Monrovia

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Member since April 13, 2015
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  • Age 27

Laura Golakeh

Laura Golakeh

Living in poverty is an experience no one wants to have. Hence many young people from poor and developing countries are seeking educational opportunities in developed countries such as the United States of America, Australia and countries in Europe and Asia, to advance their studies. Quality education is key to lift their families and communities out of poverty. However, a big challenge that most of these young graduates face is returning home after their studies.

This week, I had the honor of speaking with Laura Golakeh, the Founder and Executive Director of Right to Read Liberia, a 2014 Mandela Washington Fellow graduate of the 2014/2015 Gender and Peacebuilding class at the United Nations mandated University for Peace, and a 2015 summer intern at the Wellsley Centers for Women. Amidst the question from friends on why she is returning to home, Laura has bought a one way ticket to Monrovia, Liberia.

Laura, thank you for agreeing to share your story with the world. How about starting off with telling us about your childhood and what inspired you while growing up in Liberia?

I was born and grew up during the civil conflict in Liberia. My childhood was "stolen". I took my first steps as a child not in my home but on a battlefield. But I wasn't the only "victim". I am grateful to be alive and educated today, because thousands of children were killed; while some were conscripted into warring factions. Others were raped and married off to fighters.

Today, although there are many theories about what may have caused the conflict, one fact that keeps coming out is the high level of illiteracy among Liberians. What is even more disheartening is the reality that although strides have been made after the crisis to address this, access to quality, integrated and updated education is still a major challenge in Liberia. And if we don't prioritize education, there is a high possibility that we would experience a reoccurrence of a conflict. Education has altered my destiny, and this is why I am committed to empower others.

What were some of the challenges you faced in pursuing education?

My family lost everything during the conflict so as a child, I had a taste of poverty. I had to learn and grow up fast because I had to fend for myself and my family. I didn't have access to electricity or textbooks. Sometimes I had to walk miles to school. There was no time to have fun or play like an ordinary kid. I experienced several interruptions in school due to the civil conflict. These factors affected my high school education in a lot of ways. I couldn’t afford to wear fancy clothes. I was bullied many times. There were times I felt like giving up. But I remembered the saying that goes “there is light at the end of the tunnel.” So I kept moving with a hope to see that light.

Congratulations on your MA in Gender and Peacebuilding. Why did you decide to do Gender and Peacebuilding and how did you get an opportunity to study at the University of Peace in Costa Rica?

Thank you! I was part of a youth project that showcased the importance of young people working together despite their differences. This group of youth leaders were the first to initiate a project to build a statue of Africa's first female president from Liberia, her Excellency Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in the Garden of Nations at the UN mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica. I was part of the team that traveled with President Sirleaf to dedicate the statue in her honor. While there, I learned about their graduate programs; most especially Gender and Peacebuilding. Consequently, I applied and got admitted into the program. My final step was to justify to the Government of Liberia, through the office of the President, that supporting my quest to study Gender and Peacebuilding would empower me to support the government’s effort in sustaining peace in Liberia.

Now that you have completed your studies, how challenging is it to return home after experiencing the simplicity of life in the U.S. and Costa Rica, compared to Liberia?

I was born and raised in Liberia. I grew up having little or limited access to running water, electricity, easy transportation, internet etc. The same way I readjusted my life to the simplicity of life living abroad, I’ll readjust to the life I once lived. Liberia is my home and I am going back home to work along with my people to create the change we want to see. We all want change, but controversially accepting change is hard and, this is my fear. But, we will work to build a nation where our children and grandchildren will never have to go through what we went through.

What’s your vision for Liberia and the world?

My vision is to live in a society where quality education is accessible to everyone, irrespective of their social status.

What advice do you have for your peers who are studying or have studied abroad?

Liberia needs you more than any other country. If you have a vision to make the world a better place you have to start at home. Let us go back home and make Liberia great again.

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