The Youth Exploring Solutions (YES), an accredited non-for-profit, passionate and voluntary grassroots youth-led development organization, has staged the fifth edition of its annual Speak Out Girls Speech Competition in Montserrado County.
This year’s program which was held under the theme: “Making Girls Voices Heard” took place at the Sinkor Assembly of God Mission Church on the Tubman Boulevard with over 200 students in attendance. It brought together 50 contestants from 15 secondary schools in Oldest Congo Town, Old Road and Central Monrovia.
Ambassador Ingrid Wetterqvist of the Embassy of Sweden accredited near Monrovia delivered the keynote address. She stressed the need for girls to raise their voices on issues affecting them and work with people of all ages and gender in finding amicable and practicable solutions.
The Swedish Ambassador outlined strategic approaches for girls to achieve their full potential and measure of happiness in the midst of all the overwhelming challenges. She urged girls to focus on their education and dedicate time to learning new things and exploring new ideas to help solve some of the most pressing and critical issues confronting humanity.
“You shouldn’t only raise your voice on issues affecting you, but you must wakeup, shakeup and standup for your right to live in a society free of rape, sexual harassment, teenage pregnancy, gender based violence and other societal vices carry out simply because someone is a girl or a woman”, the Swedish Envoy asserted.
Ambassador Wetterqvist continues: “Liberian girls must learn to muster the courage in the midst of all the odds and challenges, knowing that all wouldn’t be rosy at once, but it takes patience, persistence, and perseverance to turn the tide and right the wrong”.
Madam Kealan Waldron, a consular officer at the U.S. Embassy Monrovia, spoke of how powerful girls can be in utilizing their voices for the common good of society. She emphasized three situations that girls are likely to encounter when using their voices and the time offered to mitigate the problems.
The consular officer firstly encouraged girls to use their voices when they are scared or nervous, and further pointed out that the responsibility to truth is often times most important. She secondly declared that girls need to use their voices for someone who doesn’t have one and stand up for others.
Madam Waldron lastly cautioned that sometimes the best thing to do is to delay using voices, and instead listen because according to her a room full of voices and no ears does not creates progress.
The gender and development expert at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Liberia office, Madam Chantal Kingue Ekambi disclosed that everything that UNDP does is intended to strengthen gender equality and the empowerment of women. She added that UNDP vision is in perfect match with the Speak Out Girls Speech Competition objective and its 2018 theme: “Making Girls Voices Heard”.
Madam Ekambi expressed gratitude to Youth Exploring Solutions for its continuous efforts in facilitating a platform of dialogue which is intended to nurture girls’ personality development skills and their openness to the world, with the purpose to make them future women leaders able to make informed decisions and smart choices beneficial to their lives.
“It is important to have the girls’ voices heard as they will be able to share their aspirations, needs, ambitions and dreams: Nobody can speak better on their behalf. We should then help build their persuasive skills and be able to propose and discuss with parents and reliable adults solutions that are fit for their lives”, the UNDP gender and development expert stated.
Madam Ekambi further revealed that it is important to have girls heard and amplified because according to her there are many oppressing factors that force girls to keep silent including education received at home, cultural barriers, trauma from various forms of violence and traditional practices, lack of education, lack of space and time for self-expression, etc.
She renewed UNDP commitment to always stand by Youth Exploring Solutions by providing technical expertise when needed, and by advocating widely for the educational and economic needs of girls in Liberia that would transform them into empowered, skilled and prepared Liberian women that one day Liberian women will contribute efficiently in the construction of their country.
Also speaking was the Liberia National Police deputy inspector general for operations, Robert W. Budy, who recounted the pivotal role the police plays in helping people of all ages and gender to speak out most especially girls. He narrated that the police has established women and children division to help curb some of the challenges that women and girls are faced with.
“I urge you to speak out and begin today learning to break the barriers of silence without fear or favor. Let your conscience and that burning desire to transform Liberia guide you every single step of the way. Report every criminal activity, unwholesome practices, and just anything that threatens the life of anyone or have the potential to damage property. Help the Liberia National Police to help you speak out”, Colonel Budy indicated.
The deputy inspector general of operations assured the girls that the Liberia National Police commitment in providing the space for girls to achieve their full potential and live without fear, intimidation and shyness, but instead grow up with self-confidence, boldness, self-esteem and an independent mind.
Speaking earlier, Stephen B. Lavalah, founder & executive director of Youth Exploring Solutions averred that the Speak Out Girls Speech Competition is an annual event designed to harness the enthusiasm, imagination and innovation of girls in order to lend their voices to issues affecting them and provided amicable solutions.
Lavalah said that the competition also aims to facilitate a unique platform that deepens girls understanding about personality development skills such as self-awareness, self-confidence, self-esteem, problem-solving and persuasive skills.
“Girls are responsible for almost all the domestic work in most homes. They are responsible for cooking, cleaning, washing, fetching water, taking care of siblings, going to the market and doing most of the work. These work reduces their ability to succeed in school and achieve their full potential”, the youth advocate lamented.
15-year-old Charlvia Unique, a twelve grade student of the St. Teresa Convent Catholic School shared the first place of thirty five thousand Liberian dollars with Chinda J. Johnson of Christ the King Catholic School.
Charlvia spoke on the topic: “Girls and Rape”. She proposed that girls should break the culture of silence and parents must never take family or accept family settlement of rape. For her part, Chinda delivered her speech on the topic: “Girls and Poverty”. She highlighted poverty as a major barrier to girls achieving their dreams and ambitions. Chinda admonished girls not to allow poverty to take away their dignity.
16-year-old Korpo M. Selay of Christ the King Catholic School won the second place prize. Korpo presented on Teenage Pregnancy and proposed abstinence and sex education as strategies to combat teenage pregnancy.
Student P. Decontee Dennis of the Sinkor Assemblies of God Mission High School walked away with the third place prize. Decontee spoke about Girls and Teenage Pregnancy and underscored that drugs and alcohol, low socio-economic status, peer pressure and sexual abuse, media influence and teen rebellion as some of the major causes of teenage pregnancy.