MONROVIA: As Liberia goes to Elections this year, not too many citizens, let alone noncitizens, are inclined to keep making investments; they are not pursuing any form of serious development initiatives, fearing possible socio-political disruptions. Many have significantly paused whatever investments or projects they were undertaking until elections are held.. But there are exceptions, and those exceptions might just be a very few persons: audacious, hyper-patriotic Liberians who say, ‘no matter what’, they just can’t abandon their dream investments. One of such persons is a Canadian-based Liberian, Leo Nupolu Johnson, whose organization and partners are constructing a US$2m state-of-the-art learning center expected to be dedicated February next year. As The Analyst reports, works are fast progressing and they are not likely to stop for whatever reason, until the expected dedication time reaches.
A huge, high-tech education facility is sprouting in the country, specifically in the Paynesville area, with thousands of young people expected to benefit. The construction of the first phase of a $2-million learning center in Paynesville is set to be completed and dedicated on February 23, 2024.
This could be a new chapter in Liberia’s education sector as the organization called Empowerment Squared, a Canadian based charity founded by former Liberian refugee Leo Nupolu Johnson, is leading the charge on building the first of its kind state-of-the-art, multi-purpose educational facility in the country.
The Liberian Learning Center is a direct response to some of the country’s most significant needs, including modern educational infrastructure and resources.
The primary goal of the project is to empower citizens in a country with one of the lowest literacy rates in the world by providing relevant literacy and skills-based education.
In an interview, Mr. Johnson believes that the livelihoods for the younger and future generations will improve with such an educational facility in place.
The center is a collaborative project led by Empowerment Squared, in partnership with Rotary International, Rotary Club of Hamilton, Rotary Club of Monrovia, Paynesville City Corporation, McCallumSather Architects, Tri Buchanan and Hamilton Public Library.
The facility, when completed, will be the first of its kind built as part of a three-phase master plan and will include a public library, a dedicated children’s library with co-working and business incubation spaces. Future phases include sports and recreation facilities, and the renovation of the event facilities at Paynesville City Hall.
Architects, designers, and mechanical engineers at Canadian design firm McCallumSather are leading an international integrated team to bring this vision to fruition. They are working closely with local Liberian firm, Tri Buchanan Development Corporation to ensure smooth construction throughout the process; at all points of the design, sustainable principals have been incorporated.
The building form is intentionally sculpted by the sun, wind, and rain. The sloped roof forms a large, south facing armature which harvests solar energy and rainwater. Passive system solutions reduce energy usage and build inherent resilience to unreliable power, sanitary and clean water infrastructures.
According to Mr. Johnson, the center will have an enduring connection to its community, using local labour and materials, not only in the construction but throughout the building’s life.
Leo Nupolu Johnson spent eight years in refugee camps in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana before being resettled to Canada in 2006.
He remembers reading by a streetlight in his youth and was later inspired to start the Liberian Learning Centre project after reading the biography of Samuel Kaboo Morris during his time in the refugee camps, a Liberian prince who moved to the U.S. and went to Taylor University.
He compares that with the awe of stepping into McMaster University’s library for the first time as a student.
“I was scared. You just pick up (a book) and nobody asks you a question. I couldn’t get over it,” he says. That experience fuelled him to fulfill a promise he made all those years ago at the refugee camp: build Liberians a library and bring books back to a country ripped bare by war and Ebola.
Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf visited Canada last month to receive an honorary doctorate from the prestigious McMaster University which is one of the partners to the project and expressed her gratitude for the incredible support to the people of Liberia through this project.
Empowerment Squared, McMaster University along with the Mastercard Foundation (where Sirleaf is a board member), made her visit to Hamilton possible and held a “public keynote presentation on Tuesday, June 13, 2023” where an amount of $300,000 Canadian Dollars was donated to support the completion of the Liberian Learning Center’s first phase currently under construction on the compound of Paynesville City Hall.
The donor (Tony Anderson) narrated his time living and working in pre – war Liberia with Canadian company EXCHEM and have always held a burning desire to give back to a country that meant so much to him, his family, and his career. The Liberian Learning Center project felt right and the visit and endorsement by Pres. Sirleaf was further confirmation of the transformational nature of the initiative.
Empowerment Squared Liberia Board Chair Rev. Emmett Dunn also graced the occasion and offered heartfelt thanks for the donation. He also disclosed that February 23, 2024, has been set as the date to celebrate the unveiling of the finished building to the public marking a major historical milestone.
Estimated at $2million, the Liberian Learning Center will empower tens of thousands of youth, families and communities with the tools and opportunities to thrive and contribute to building a better future for their country.
ABOUT LEO NUPOLU JOHNSON
Leo spent eight years in refugee camps in Ivory Coast and Ghana, having fled from civil war in his native Liberia. In 2006, he resettled in Canada as a government-assisted refugee. In 2007, Leo founded Empowerment Squared, a charitable organization committed to building a world where everyone is empowered with the tools and opportunities to thrive and contribute to society through mentorship and access to education. Under Leo’s leadership, the organization has assisted over 10,000 newcomer youth and families with settling in Canada. The organization recently completed the groundbreaking ceremony for the Liberian Learning Center which will house the only public library in the West African Nation of Liberia.
Leo’s work has been recognized for its impact all over the world. He has received the J.C. Holland Award for Youth Leadership and Excellence and the YMCA Peace Medal, been named one of the Hamilton Spectator’s Top Forty Under 40 and one of the top 75 immigrants in Canada, he also served as guest lecturer in the University of Toronto’s Global Health course. He was recently awarded the World Citizenship Award by the City of Hamilton, Gandhi Peace Award, McMaster University Global Community Impact Award and the Afroglobal TV 2018 Visionary Award. In 2019, Leo was one of 14 people selected globally as a Fellow for the International Decade for People of African Descent by the United Nations.
Johnson is Founder & Executive Director of Empowerment Squared, President of Liberian Association of Canada, a 2019 United Nations Fellow and a member of Rotary International.
He is also a Human Rights Specialist with expertise in Fundraising, Board Governance & Management, Non-profit Development & Management, International Development, Immigration & Resettlement, Leadership Development, Training & Facilitation, Event Host & Moderator and Youth Empowerment.