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A visit for a worthy course

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On Monday June 27, 2016, the world’s attention will once again be focused on Liberia when the first black first lady of the United States of America, Michelle Obama set foot on the soil of the first African independent nation, headed by the first female President on the continent-President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

This will be the first stop of Mrs. Obama’s tour of three nations-Liberia, Morocco and Spain, to promote girls’ education as part of the Let Girls Learn initiative. She will be traveling with her two daughters- Sasha, Malia, and their grandmother Marian Robinson.

The Let Girls Learn initiative is a United States government initiative to ensure adolescent girls get the education they deserve. It is estimated that about 62 million girls worldwide mostly adolescent are out of school.
More than that, girls are among the most vulnerable around the world. They face complex physical, cultural, and financial barriers in accessing education. It becomes more difficult if not impossible for a girl to gain access to education as she grows older. If not forced into marriage, her family must be willing to pay her school fees. Walking long unsafe distances and lack of support could also be a contributing factor.

Here in Liberia, the picture is no different. It is estimated that more than three quarters of the girls among the poorest of our society aged 7-16 have never been to school. And this is what has attracted Mrs. Obama and her quest to change that narrate.

“I wanted to be in the position to help folks from neighborhoods like mine, especially young people who didn’t have the opportunities that I had,” Mrs. Obama said in a live interview on OAL news on Tuesday June 21, 2016.

“So, I quit my job at the law firm and had myself working in careers, where I could spend time lifting up the communities that I grew up in,” she said. Mrs. Obama says she sees her new role in lifting girls around the world by helping them to gain quality education as a gift “because it brings with it this big brisk spotlight.”

Growing up in her native Chicago, Illinois, Michelle was raised in a small bungalow on Chicago’s South Side. Her father, Fraser Robinson, was a city-pump operator and a Democratic precinct captain. Her mother, Marian, was a secretary at Spiegel’s but later stayed home to raise her and older brother, Craig. They were a close-knit family, typically sharing meals, reading and playing games together.

Craig and Michelle, 21 months apart in age, were often mistaken for twins. The siblings also shared close quarters, sleeping in the living room with a sheet serving as a makeshift room divider. They were raised with an emphasis on education and had learned to read at home by age four. Both skipped the second grade.

“I am a Chicago native,” Michelle went on during the interview. “I grew up on the south side. We live in a small apartment with my parents and my older brother Craig,” she said. “We never had a lot of money but my brother and I were blessed with something far more valuable because our parents truly give us unconditional love and encouragement to go places they never imagine for themselves.

Neither of them had a college degree. But they made it very clear that they expected me and my brother to get the best education possible.” She said of her parents. Mrs. Obama says, she feels that her work to ensure poor girls around the world gain quality education has defined her.

“…I choose to work hard on issues that I care deeply about, that I feel really define me, that I am connected with. It really makes a difference in people’s lives,” she said. I want Let Girls Learn to be part of my work for decades to come. For me this issue is personal. The issues are real and I feel blessed to serve in this role for my country,” Mrs. Obama added.

As already announced, Mrs. Obama joined by Malia and Sasha Obama and Mrs. Marian Robinson – will visit Margibi County, here in Liberia. She will visit a Peace Corps Training Facility in Kakata, where she will meet with girls and young women participating in a GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) Camp. Her visit will highlight both the Peace Corps’ work to help girls in underserved communities build self-confidence, communication, and other leadership skills and new programming from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) aimed at improving access to quality education and life skills for adolescent girls across Liberia.

While Liberia,the U.S. First Lady will visit a school in Unification Town for a discussion with adolescent girls who have faced serious obstacles in attaining an education. This discussion will be moderated by actress Freida Pinto, an advocate for girls’ education. The conversation will highlight both the educational barriers girls face as Liberia moves beyond the Ebola epidemic, and the U.S. Government’s efforts to continue to address those barriers and provide adolescent girls with equitable access to safe and quality education. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will join Mrs. Obama during her visit. The First Lady’s events in Liberia will take place on June 27.

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