“I think I’ve told you about Viola, right? She came up to me a short while ago, saying that she wanted to return to school. I asked her why she didn’t, and she told me what is the sad story of so many kids throughout this continent: no father, too many siblings, lives with grandmother, no money to pay the school fees…”
This story was recounted in 2006 in a series of emails between Stan Stalla, a program specialist for USAID stationed in Liberia, and Kim Ouillette, then a high school sophomore living in Belfast, Maine. Stan explained some of the harsh circumstances facing the youth of Liberia—a small West-African country that was ravaged by a civil war that lasted for 14 years. Stan said that in Liberia, most youth dream of attending school, but are often prevented from realizing these dreams due to the relatively high cost of obtaining an education. From this conversation between Stan and Kim, a unique idea was born: perhaps youth in Liberia with little hope of escaping poverty could be offered a new chance to succeed by their peers across the ocean.
Stan put Kim in touch with Joe Hoover Gbadyu, a Liberian with years of experience working in humanitarian aid and development, who was interested in collaborating on this initiative. Kim began to organize students at Belfast Area High School, and in January 2007, they were able to send their first payment to fund four students. Students in Belfast were inspired by the impact they could make, and more students began to get involved. News of the successful LEF program at Belfast spread to other schools, and other high schools and universities began to form their own LEF fundraising chapters.
Today, there are LEF chapters at 4 high schools that collectively raise over $6,000 to provide scholarships for 20+ students in Liberia every year. We have a stellar team of 3 young people leading our coordination team in Liberia, who are responsible for ensuring that we select students with a strong dedication to succeeding academically and support these students throughout their academic journey. The scholarship students also meet once per month to work on leadership and communication skills.