AMBASSADOR DAVID Straz has quietly been funding humanitarian efforts throughout his life. He brought that to Liberia a few years ago, and was instrumental in singlehandedly refurbishing the Sinje Technical and Vocational College of the University of Liberia (UL) which is now called the David A Straz Sinje Technical Vocational College at the University of Liberia.
THE US$2 million project was recently dedicated by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to much fanfare and dignitaries, as usual, showboating and putting up their best Sunday-go-to Meeting Suits and eye-servant impersonations.
SINJE IS LOCATED in the region of Grand Cape Mount, some 20 miles away from the capital. Most youngsters in the area have very little access to education and most have to commute to Monrovia to attend the University of Liberia.
AMBASSADOR STRAZ, who is also the Liberia Honorary Consul At-Large to the United States of America (USA), unlike many others who have come to Liberia engaging in unscrupulous investments and failed businesses; has never asked anything from Liberia or Liberians. He is a billionaire right up with the Bill Gates and the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world. But unlike those, he keeps his philanthropic works quiet.
BESIDES LIBERIA, he also serves the Republic of Honduras as honorary ambassador at large.
IN LIBERIA, HIS MAIN concern with the Sinje project was to ensure that former combatants and underprivileged students have access to sound and free education, especially in Grand Cape Mount County where the college is situated.
SINCE ITS ESTABLISHMENT in 2010, the college has offered Associate Degree (AA) in agriculture, engineering and education.
NOW FULLY COMPLETED, it is hoped that the college will be restored to a place where students graduating from there will have easy access to entering university main program. “We agreed that graduates from the college would enter the university to complete their remaining two years’ study to get a full bachelor’s degree,” Dr. Straz said during the unveiling of the refurbished facility last July. “I have interest in higher education; this is why I informed President that I would like to do something for Liberians,” he said at the time.
WITH THE PROJECT now refurbished, the next challenge was to equip the facility so that students can have access to a well-furnished and up-to-date laboratory.
IT WAS ALSO AGREED that at least US$1,000,000(one million dollars) was needed to equip the lab.
SO, AMBASSADOR STRAZ, who had previously renovated the College of West Africa, one of Liberia’s historically-relevant learning institutions, did not relent, he informed authorities in Liberia, including the presidency and the University of Liberia that he would step in; but there was a catch.
THE AMBASSADOR agreed to give US$500,000 (five hundred thousand United States Dollars) if the government would match it and meet the challenge with US$500,000.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA HAS LEARNED that the president instructed University of Liberia President Dr. Emett Dennis to speak with members of the legislature to see if the amount could be included in the National Budget.
AFTER MONTHS of discussions, FPA has gathered that the lawmakers have refused. More importantly, the request was denied and the University of Liberia has been unable to get Ambassador Straz’s US$500,000 offer.
WHAT SINJE HAS NOW is an empty room intended to be a laboratory.
THE DAVID A. STRAZ Technical and Vocational College currently has 356 registered candidates for 2016/2017 Entrance and Placement Exam, the highest, since establishment of the school in 1983.
AFTER NEARLY 170 YEARS OF independence, several coup attempts and one brutal civil war which killed and maimed our political and economic development, it remains sad and a pity really that those elected to serve the people have no conscience and are only concerned about filling their pocket rather than improving the lives of the people who elected them to those positions.
THE SINJE project did not perhaps include an incentive for lawmakers to get funds to run the campaign in the upcoming elections; the Sinje project apparently did not have provision that would allow lawmakers to claim credit or have their names inscribed on the building. So for this and many other reasons best known to them, a project with a lot of promise and a genuine offer from a man who just want to help Liberia’s rugged education system, appears to be dying a slow and painful death.
BESIDES LIBERIA, Ambassador Straz has come to the aid of many less fortunate around the world, quietly supporting causes and giving back when the need arises.
He and his wife, Catherine, selectively support institutions principally in higher education and the visual and performing arts and they have earned widespread respect and appreciation for their philanthropy across many years. Major buildings at Marquette University, the University of Tampa, and Carthage carry the Straz name. The performing arts center of the City of Tampa is named for the Ambassador. Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo is noted for its David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Hospital.
RESPECT FOR AMBASSADOR STRAZ extends abroad. In addition to his honorary degrees, he received the “Humanitarian of the Decade” award from the College of West Africa. He holds the key to the City of Monrovia and was knighted into the Humane Order of African Redemption.
SO, HE DOESN’T REALLY need Liberia, Liberia should do all it can to keep him. It is a pity for us that those in position of power will sit on an offer that will improve the lives of Liberians, simply because there is nothing inside for them.
AS WE APPROACH THE 2017 presidential elections, it is important for Liberians to look beyond the fine prints and see what is going on before wasting their votes on people who have no conscience for their people.
THE LEGISLATURE must revisit the fatal error that is being done to Sinje by going back into their budget, cutting their enormous salaries and benefits if they have to. But they must not kill the hopes of young Liberians by standing in their way of attaining higher education.