FOL’s Barbara Kamara and HIPPY-International director Dr. Miriam Westheimer have arrived in Liberia to launch the Family Literacy Initiative (FLI). They join our implementing partners at We Care Foundation in Monrovia, Michael Weah and Yvonne Capehart, who round out the FOL-HIPPY-We Care partnership. Together, we are committed to improving literacy where learning begins: in the home with parents as the child’s first teacher.

Barbara Kamara and Dr. Miriam Westheimer start the training of home visitors.

Starting Nov. 16, Miriam and Barbara will lead an intensive training program for Family Literacy Initiative (FLI) coordinators Gbima Bahtokpah and David Sonjor and 20 potential home visitors, six of whom will be selected to work with 60 families in three communities during the pilot: West Point, Duazon and Caldwell. The 5-day training will prepare trainees to use the evidence- based HIPPY approach that includes:

  • A developmentally appropriate curriculum designed to strengthen the child’s cognitive and early literacy skills, social/emotional and physical development.
  • A set of easy-to-use educational activity packets and storybooks for parent and child,
  • Home visits and group meetings to teach parents how to teach their child, extending over a two or three year period;
  • Home visitors hired from within the community, trained and supervised by a professional coordinator;
  • An emphasis on role play among the teaching and learning methodologies employed.

Coordinators Gbima and David were selected after a rigorous recruitment process that included interviews conducted by Barbara, Michael, Yvonne, the Assistant Minister of Education for Early Childhood, Yukhiko Amnon, and FOL’s Jefferson (King) Krua.

National coordinators Gbima Bahtokpah and David Sonjor display a poster of FLI work so far.

In addition to working with the Ministry of Education, we are also exploring collaboration opportunities with the Peace Corps, USAID’s Advancing Youth Program, the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund and other program with similar literacy goals. An African proverb captures the value we place on partnerships: If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
Monitoring and evaluation will begin next week as selected children will be assessed and administrators trained with the Bracken School Readiness Assessment. Other evaluation measures will be used during the pilot. If evidence indicates that the HIPPY model is successful in preparing Liberian children for success in school, the program will be scaled to communities beyond Montserrado County where FOL could broker similar partnerships and expand the impact to 150-200 families a year. The Education Working Group (EWG) has identified two promising partners at Nimba Community College in Sannequellie and Tubman University in Harper.

FOL decided to focus on literacy because literacy in Liberia is in crisis, with an existing serious problem exacerbated further by the Ebola epidemic and the subsequent closing of schools for an extended period. As the country begins post-Ebola recovery, the words of Foreign Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan ring true: “If Liberia does not put an end to illiteracy, it will be illiteracy that will put an end to Liberia.”

We hope you will support this effort with contributions and spreading the word that we need help to keep this going.

–Don Drach, Board and EWG member