Monrovia, Liberia – Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor witnessed the first graduation ceremonies of 204 young women and girls from the YWCA Jewels Training Centre in various vocational disciplines, marking the culmination of more than 20 years of work towards transforming the lives of young women and girls throughout Liberia.
These fields include cosmetology, quilting, nail art, bead making, and information communication technology (ICT).Even with the enormous duties that accompany the Vice Presidency, Madam Vice President is still the unchallenged leader and a fierce advocate for the emancipation of women and girls.
Through her Jewel Starfish Foundation, she has provided scholarships for thousands of young women and girls across the country; an initiative which continues to expand exponentially beyond the borders of Liberia. Political commentators have identified Vice President Howard-Taylor as Liberia’s second most powerful female politician. Her record of service to humanity is filled with enormous achievements; noting that it is impossible to overlook.
The Vice President of Liberia’s passion for empowering and assisting underprivileged women to accomplish meaningful work with their hands through the Jewel Starfish Foundation served as the driving force behind the initiative, according to Mrs. Dellnot W. Gardiner, Chairperson of the institution’s Board of Directors, during the glitzy graduation ceremonies that were attended by both domestic and foreign partners.
Mrs. Gardiner said the initiative is an offspring of what is being done at the Jewel Starfish Foundation to support underprivileged females. The foundation, according to her, has supported more than 7,000 females through programs and education, psychosocial support, leadership and mentoring by raising awareness about SGBV issues; through promoting sexual reproductive health rights; as well as through advocacy for social protection and inclusion of women.
She indicated that the Vice President Howard Taylor’s humanitarian work has touched the lives of girls not only in the 15 counties of Liberia but also in Ghana, Malawi, and Sierra Leone. “This vision is birthed from her stellar passion for ensuring that young ladies learn how to work with their hands as a means of self-empowerment.
VP Taylor’s goal of having a majority of educated women is grounded in her conviction that informed women have access to a wider range of options for decision-making, that education for girls saves lives, strengthens families, communities, and economies, and that having educated women increases the likelihood that the country will have the best possible quality of life, according to Mrs. Gardiner.
In remarks, the guest speaker of the first graduation ceremony, Rev. Dr. Adam M. Kyne stated that the skills training initiative is an evidence of the long years Vice President Howard Taylor had committed to the transformation of the lives of numerous young people; compassionate nature; and unwavering dedication.
“You are a revered figure and a beacon of hope for the countless lives of young people you have touched; and your compassion for the wellbeing of people. You carry the mark of an extraordinary leader,” Rev. Dr. Kyne said while testifying about his encounter with Madam Howard Taylor in 1998 during a high school arts competition when she awarded him a full scholarship to attend the Don Bosco Polytechnic.
“From Dreams to Realities – you have made it” was the subject of his speech. He said in Liberia, being a young woman is difficult; noting, there are responsibilities and unjust expectations. He encourage them to accept the goodness and celebrate your success.
”Being the finest version of yourself will prevent anyone from threatening you or intimidating you; there are hidden skills waiting to be discovered within you. Therefore, if you’re going to make bread, bake it so no one can threaten your baking abilities, and if you’re going to sew, sew skillfully so no one can threaten your sewing abilities. Be your best. Don’t compare yourself to others; compare yourself to the best version of yourself. It means acknowledging your strengths, working on your weaknesses, and seeking growth. Set goals, pursue further education, and always believe in your ability to create a positive impact.”
The Baptist clergyman emphasised, “By becoming the best version of yourself, you inspire others and ignite a ripple effect of transformation within your communities.”
Liberia’s Vice President remarked that there are not many opportunities that move her spirit and heart like opportunities such as the promotion girls and women.
“I would not have missed this for the world. So, I want to thank everybody for making this day possible. The vision for transforming the lives of women can never be understated. It is because of our God given responsibilities as women that I take time to ensure that women have the empowerment and capacity that they need to be helpmates to their families, husbands, communities and nation.”
She gave the young ladies her congratulations and urged them to keep trying and never give up. According to Madan Taylor, out of the original cohort of 240 young women, roughly thirty dropped out. She encouraged the graduates by emphasising that dropping out puts one back at the bottom of the ladder.
”I have no doubt that those of you who persevered and saw this through to the end will do great things. Each of you is now empowered by the opportunities for which you are accepting responsibility today. Since we are creating a new country and these are essential building stones, this opportunity is worth every single money and effort. I am aware that everyone of you has the potential to make a positive difference in your communities and in your families as a result of this opportunity. To you, I wish to set an example.”
The Liberian Vice President narrated that, she was born in Zorzor, Lofa County and moved to Monrovia and lived in a zinc house. She recalled that her father had my college graduation party when they used to live in that zinc house. She asked; Are there challenges? Yes, there would be but you must remain focused and determined.
She pleaded to sponsors, kindhearted individuals, and organisations to recognise the need of supporting the project in order to keep it free and continue to empower young women. ”If we say girls are important, we should put our money where our mouths are. It cannot be let them go and find their way. This program has to remain free but we need partnerships.”
More than 600 applications were received, but some were not accepted since there wasn’t enough room for everyone, Madam Taylor said. She stated that construction of an annexe to give more space will start in the upcoming months and expressed her hope that allies, supporters, and well-wishers would join the project.
The next class will open in January 2024. When women are empowered, the world is transformed,” Vice President Howard Taylor pointed out.The star attraction of the ceremony was a physically challenged young lady, Musu Gartee, who lost one of her hands during the 2003 war in Liberia but has not given up on herself.
“We have been having this passion to learn ever since but most of the training institutions charge high fees and material cost have been the stumbling block. I don’t see myself different from anyone because I know once I have life in me, I can do anything. I do everything a normal woman with two hands would do: cooking, cleaning, and fetching water from the well. I like to do things for myself because when I am out there tomorrow, there would be no one to do it for me, Musa said to a deafening cheer of attendees.”
The Minister of Education, Prof. D. Ansu Sonii congratulated the graduating class and made a personal conteibution by providing Musu a US$1,000 to buy a startup kits.
One of the young women who finished the six-month programme with honours, Joyce Dahn, expressed gratitude to her colleagues and the YWCA Jewels Training Centre, for transforming them from being unimportant to important.
“for making us to know that the future depend on us; for creating a space for good learning; modern learning equipment that have helped us to become new women today.”
Joyce said she benefited from this program as a single mother with the desire to learn and become a better person. “I scheduled two hours ahead of class time every day to be ahead of my classmates and did my assignments on time in order to navigate the system.”
A member of the YWCA Board, Cecelia Talawally stated: ”I am inspired by your message today that has put us in gear to continue teaching and mentoring more young women and children.”
The YWCA Jewels training center was founded by Chief Dr. Jewel Howard Taylor, Vice President of the Republic of Liberia. This project was launched on July 25, 2022. The aim is to build female capacities in becoming great leaders and making a difference with their hands.
Reported by: Lewis S Teh