An experience which may someday turn out to be a life changing moment for several underprivileged Liberian youth, passed off, rather quietly with little fanfare and flashy headlines. Perhaps, consumed by much more appetizing political events, the media missed an event, which in our view captured one of the fundamental principles of empowering individuals desperate to improve their livelihood. Individuals, who may one day, turn from beggars to bread winners for their families. We are referring to the graduation on three months ago of more than 200 Liberian youth from the Salvation Army Vocational Training center in Monrovia.
The occasion marked a proud moment for the graduates, parents, the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) and well-wishers who gathered at the Leigh Miller Gymnasium on 24th Street in Sinkor to witness this historic ceremony. Student Jeremy Gbordweh was understandably full of praises for NOCAL for its support. And let’s face it. Who wouldn’t be? The company provided all expenses associated with the students’ vocational training program at the Center, including stipend.
“Take a good look at us,” the Student Representative urged his sponsors. “Look at the yellow and white; (their uniform) what do you see,” he inquired rhetorically. “If you don’t see anything, we see something,” the class President added. The something the young graduate was urging his sponsors to see is the productivity the investment will eventually accrue. The productivity, he boasted rather ambitiously, “would make Mama Liberia like Japan, China or the United Sates in masonry, carpentry, plumbing, auto mechanic, and electricity.”
Student Gbordweh, who also served as Student Representative, then captured what could have been an overriding sentiment of the many in attendance, most especially the graduates, when he called for an extension of the training opportunity being offered by NOCAL, support without which their talents may have remained untapped. “Cast your eyes upon your sponsored students in these beautiful colors today,” he said, adding, ‘we realize that you really want us to be productive and not destructive. Since you have shown us the fundamental parts of our various areas of studies, we appeal to you through this medium to please extend our time of studies so that we can advance ourselves in the various disciplines to cope with the future.”
Officials of NOCAL were visibly moved and impressed by the splendid performance of theirsponsored student. “What if the company had not invested in this young man and the others,” were no doubt, some of the thoughts running across some minds as this proud graduate so eloquently made the case for him and his colleagues.
Madam Faith David summed it all up when she said, “We are proud of you all. We are delighted that we invested in you.” The NOCAL CSR Program Officer, who has served as a direct link between the institutions and the company, assured the graduates that their request for an extension of their studies would be conveyed to the Corporate Social Responsibility Division of the company for consideration. “Go out and tell the world that our investment in you was worth in, Madam David urged the gratified diploma recipients, as she presented a tool kid to each graduate on behalf of the company as a kick off point into the Real World.
The 9 to 18 month program marked the completion of the first full circle of training course sponsored by NOCAL. It afforded participants the opportunity to undertake vocational classes in various fields, including auto-mechanics, carpentry, electricity, masonry, plumbing, drafting, tailoring, shoe-making, driving among others.
Nearly three thousand youths, mostly disadvantaged, thronged Recruitment Centers in Monrovia last year for an opportunity to be selected for the vocational training program, which now has more than 7-hundred youths spread around the various vocational centers including the Liberia Opportunity Industrialization Center, the Monrovia Vocational Training Center, the William V.S. Tubman Accelerated Vocational Training Center, Salvation Army Vocational Training Institute, Willliam Varney Dakel Human Resource Institute, among others.
“We are excited that the lives of Liberians, particularly the youth are being impacted through our corporate social initiatives,” the Vice President for Corporate Social Relations at NOCAL said. Mrs. Ophelia Hoff-Saytumah, who is about to retire, indicated that NOCAL will continue to offer short and long-term vocational training programs to help the youth acquire new skills to make them more marketable.
Last year alone, the company spent more than US $176, 000 on vocational training and development as well as local scholarships. The graduation at the Salvation Army Vocational Training Center marked the third batch of graduation for NOCAL sponsored students who have completed the first full circle of vocational training at various centers.
This year, the company has allocated a whooping US $8, 029, 848, 00 on Manpower Training and Development. The amount accounts for 28% of the total expenditure for the 2013-2014 fiscal periods, the second highest budgetary allocation towards that section for the second year running. Last year, the company allotted in its fiscal budget US $6,393.670.00 for the division.
The CSR Division is now planning to extend the vocational program to other parts of the country. The plan will initially target youths in counties surrounding Montserrado, with roll out plans for other political sub-divisions of the country, to ensure that the program remains inclusive, in furtherance of one of NOCAL’s core values.
Very passionate about the program and not contented with the initial positive outlook, the President & CEO Dr. Randolph McClain says providing the opportunity for young people to acquire a skill is crucial, but adds that the program must be sustainable. “Acquiring a skill; getting employed and becoming self-sufficient is even more sustainable. Once we can play a role in getting these young people to reach that goal, we would have added another positive dimension to their wellbeing,” he asserted. As part of its sustainability drive, NOCAL has already begun working with other institutions to recommend for employment students who have graduated from its sponsored vocational training programs. “We will continue to provide the support to help our youths reach their potential as the institution strives to develop the oil sector of the country”, Dr. Randolph McClain has assured.
Interventions like this may seem negligible in the eyes of skeptics or some who may not have had to experience the difficulties of acquiring an education, but for the thousands of youths, who dream daily of an opportunity to raise their living standards with the acquisition of a skill, it means the entire world to them.