Swedish Envoy Inspires Young Liberian Readers

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Ambassador Ingrid Wetterqvist of the Embassy of Sweden accredited near Monrovia participated in Youth Exploring Solutions’ Reading Enrichment Program as part of the voluntary grassroots and youth-led development organization Guest Reader Initiative.

The Swedish Envoy was accompanied by Helen Harris and Joseph McKay both of whom are staff members of the Swedish Embassy. Helen and Joseph also participated in the reading and discussion activities, according to a release from the Founder & Executive DirectorYouth Exploring Solutions.

The release said Ambassador Wetterqvist visited the GSA Road Reading Center ideally located behind the SKD Sports Complex at the Kings and Queens School and the Kingsville Township Reading Center situated at the Lydia B. Sando Mission School behind the Kingsville Township Football Field, Careysburg District.

The high-level Swedish diplomat took time out of her busy Saturday’s schedule to engage and inspire young Liberians to become lifelong readers, leaders and changemakers. She read to with in-school and out-of-school children aged between 5 to 16 years old and also shared some amazing facts about Sweden.

Reading from the book titled: “One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia” authored by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, Ambassador Wetterqvist read aloud the entire book and showcase the illustration on each page, the release said.

The book is about the story of Isatou Ceesay, and her fight to clean up the plastic bags that were littering her village and killing animals. It also tells the story of one woman’s efforts to recycle plastic bags and the impact it has on her town and its people.

Isatou Ceesay is the main character in the book and becomes frustrated that her village is littered with plastic bags, the goats are eating them and it is killing them. She has an idea and recruits friends, the women clean the bags, cut and crochet them into purses. Despite villagers mocking her, Isatou sells them at the village and she makes enough money to buy a new goat. Before long, the village is clean and naturally beautiful again.

Isatou grows up in Njau, Gambia and becomes aware of the impact that plastic bags have on her small village. These bags litter the streets, cause goats sick from eating them, and they are home to mosquitos that cause malaria. Isatou and her friends cleaned the bags and repurpose them into purses which they sold at the market.

As an adult, Isatou and her friends begin to wash the bags, cut them into strips, and crochet them into purses. At first they do this in hiding because others would mock them. Later, Isatou and her friends take these purses to the market and sell them. This helps to clean the streets of her village and provide her with money from the sale of her wares.

One plastic bag became two, then ten, then a hundred. Miranda Paul chronicles the inspirational journey taken by Isatou Ceesay. Isatou, who takes it upon herself to collect discarded plastic bags and recycle them. These bags pooled water bringing mosquitoes and disease. Livestock died from eating the bags and gardens choked on them. Isatou brings change by gathering her friends to clean the bags and weave them into beautiful purses. Elizabeth Zunon’s vibrant illustrations depict the amazing transformation made by one woman’s mission to save her village.

Through the author’s note and the timeline provided at the end of the book we learn more about Isatou and her work with the Peace Corps and the Njau Recycling and Income Generating Group. This is a wonderfully empowering tale for women

Upon reading the story, Ambassador Wetterqvist urged young people to become Climate Change Agent and avoid the throwing of plastic just anywhere in the community and around street corners. She encouraged the children to think of other ways that the plastic bags could be used.

The participants of the Reading Enrichment Program committed themselves to protecting the environment by carefully disposing plastic bag and painstakingly thinking of ways to get rid of plastic waste.   In the words of the children: “We will put the burst and used plastic in the trash and not throw it in the street or on the ground”.

“I am very happy learning how to read various interesting books and being taught to pronounce words distinctly; since my parents are unable to read and write, I will appeal to my older brother to teach me how to read every single day. I will also make it my duty to attend this reading program and encourage all of my friends to join the reading class so as to become super readers” Gabriel Jackson asserted.

It is a great privilege to listen, learn and interact with the Swedish Ambassador for the very first time. It is not common to see an Ambassador in Kingsville Township. All too often, the concentration is on Monrovia and other urban areas in the country. We are so grateful to see and listen to the Swedish Ambassador reading such an inspiring story”, young Lydia Kerkula stated.

Youth Exploring Solutions’ Reading Enrichment Program mobilizes and nurtures in-school and out-of-school children between the ages of 5 to 16 years old to achieve basic reading proficiency, develop solid comprehension techniques and build vocabulary skills through the provision of free reading classes, recreational activities and sports. It also creates a splendid learning environment that nurtures the culture of reading and makes children to become lifelong readers and learners capable of engender changes in their communities.

For seven years now, a group of determined, dedicated and devoted volunteers as well as professional, passionate and educated young people who put aside greed for stipend, rush for compensation and struggle for material possession to nurturing the culture of reading among children.

Currently, Youth Exploring Solutions Reading Enrichment Program is being implemented in four counties, namely: Montserrado, Gbarpolu, Bomi, Margibi, Bong, Grand Bassa, Rivercess and Lofa counties. It is hoped that the program will be extended to other counties through the Mobile Reading Center and Library Project, which is expected to be launched soon if there is support from partners.