Voinjama, Lofa County - Tears of joy streamed down Evelyn Williams’ face, on the weekend as she enjoyed a day she once thought would never come.
Ms. Williams became one of a handful of women to graduate from Lofa County Community College (LCCC) walls with an AA degree.
This seemed very unlikely in 2015 when Williams was one of many scholars who lost their scholarships from the National Oil Company of Liberia as NOCAL slid into financial collapse.
As the Ebola crisis strained her family Williams GPA dropped below 3.0 and NOCAL said they would drop her.
On Friday all that was forgotten. Williams was one of 413 students graduating from the College.
Her delighted family beat sassa and drums with other parents rejoicing over their children’s graduation.
Williams was chosen to introduce the guest speaker Goyazu Kolu Zigbi Johnson, a daughter of Lofa but was born in the USA and came to visit her father's home in Goyazu village Lofa County.
“I am very proud to be counted among the graduates today, because we are only five females coming out of the engineering department, while other departments have over twenty or more. I feel like a man, because it is not easy to do engineering as a female, but once you stay focus, you can make it,” said Williams.
The Lofa student’s change of fortunes came after FrontPageAfrica learned of her plight and shone a spotlight on her case and that of other scholars in Lofa and Bong counties while investigating NOCAL Corporate Responsibility programs in partnership with New Narratives.
When Former Defense Minister Brownie J. Samukai read of Williams’s case he immediately put her on the Ministry’s Science scholarship program. And the gesture has led her graduating today.
“I just want to appreciate Minister Samukai for his contribution in bringing me this far to achieve my goal."
"I want to tell him, he has not made a mistake in investing in my education to achieve my dream, and I will make him proud and become that person he wants me to be,” said Williams.
Former Minister Samukai, in a text message from overseas, expressed his pride in Williams’s achievement.
“It is an awesome feeling of giving back to future generation of our country and that Evelyn has done real justice to the challenge to becoming a female engineer from Lofa County without any local financial support,’ said Samukai.
“I am very proud of Ms. Williams and will continue to support her achieve her dream.” Samukai thanked the FPA/New Narratives partnership and this journalist for alerting him to Williams’s case.
“All this would not have been possible if it was not for the advocacy of one journalist Mae Azango who challenged me in a text to seek support for Evelyn.
Congratulations Evelyn for your initial achievement. Keep going until you realize your dream and do count on me for support and assistance,” said Samukai.
Evelyn was among 28 students who suffered the effect of dropping from the NOCAL scholarship scheme, through the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility program.
At the beginning, 35 students of the Lofa County community College (LCCC) were happy to have been chosen when they enrolled in the 2013-2014 year scholarship, but soon their hopes were dashed.
However, during the special semester because of Ebola, Lofa was considered the epicenter of the disease. It was hit so hard that many students lost relatives or were displaced by the crisis. Only 12 of the 35 students were able to keep up a 3.0 GPA. Evelyn was one of the 12.
But not long after making it through Ebola and trying to keep their grades up, Evelyn and four other students of the remaining 12 were cut from the program.
Therefore out of 35 scholars NOCAL initially supported at Lofa, there were now just seven students left.
All this came at a time when Nocal was lurching into financial ruin.
According to Peter Taylor, Chief Accountant of the College at the time, NOCAL insisted that raising the GPA requirement was about maintaining standards, not about driving scholars out and reducing expenses for the cash-strapped company.
When asked about this in questions submitted to the company, Ambulah Mamey, Head of Press and Public Affairs at NOCAL, wrote:
“Students were dropped because they failed to meet the minimum GPA requirement of 3.0.
Numbers of students that are dropped because of underperformance are replaced with other higher performing students during the next recruitment period which is usually at the end of the academic year.”
But Dean of Student Affairs at Lofa College, Mr. Jenkins Ngaima, rejected that claim.
“After the semester, we submitted the report of the students to NOCAL, with a recommendation that NOCAL replace students dropped from their scholarship with other students with higher GPAs,” said Jenkins. “But NOCAL said they wanted to continue with the students they started with.
So, as long students on the program did not score the points, they were not to be replaced.”
Due to the company action, Williams was forced to leave school to sell cosmetics on the streets of Lofa to raise money for her tuition, but could not keep up because the market was not raising money.
She ended up going on the college campus to beg teachers to assist her in paying her tuition, until she ran across FPA who highlighted her story.
Williams said she did engineering because the road leading into Lofa is so deplorable and the infrastructure is so poorly constructed and not durable.
She said if the students, who are sons and daughters of Lofa can do engineering, they will work in collaboration with the government of Liberia to build Lofa County and Liberia at large. During that occasion, she called on parents to invest in the female children.
“I want Liberian parents to send their girls to school and I want to encourage the female to do engineering because it will benefit them and make them feel proud and place you higher in competing with many men on the job market."
"I chose the course because it has been my ambition since high school and I vowed to achieve my goal and reach to master’s level so one day, I will construct my road.”
With step one of Williams’ journey behind her she is now exploring options to continue her education with Samukai’s support.
She has interned with a construction company in Lofa County and hopes one day soon to be involved with major infrastructure projects in her country.