This Summer of 2022 was my first summer in the U.S. – the best summer of my life. It consisted of a lot of new and amazing experiences, but the most important of them was organizing a virtual summer writing program for a group of Liberian girls.
The Liberian “Write Right” project- as the program was called, was the first of its kind I’ve organized. I have been a part of other volunteer groups, but this was my first independent project and I must say it was a success. Thank you to the amazing SHE-CAN Power To Fly volunteers and Rohnda, my writing mentor, who put in every effort to make it happen.
The class started on a Saturday June 4, 2022, but many months prior to that, Rohnda and I had been having one of our usual conversations on a Monday afternoon when I dropped the bombshell.
“Rohnda,” I said, “I have something on my mind.”
“What is it?” she asked.
“I want to create a writing class for Liberian girls this summer.” I said.
Rohnda, with eyes lighted, said, “That’s awesome, Myra. You’re already thinking of making an impact while a freshman, but do you have an idea of how you would like to do that?” I had no idea how! I just had a concept. Besides, I hope Rohnda didn’t think I was expecting her to do that as well, because she was already tutoring me and another student I’d asked her to.
I just said, “ Maybe asking for volunteers and raising money?” Knowing that I had no set plan, Rohnda suggested I talk to Jenny. (SHE-CAN note: Jenny Maxwell is a SHE-CAN scholar and junior at Muhlenberg who has led successful community service projects in Liberia.)
“Okay, Rohnda. Thank you” I said, ending the call. After the talk, I sat thinking “How would I do this?”
I asked Jenny that evening over dinner. Her answers were great, but had some drawbacks. Asking students at the Muhlenberg writing center to volunteer would take too long, especially since it consisted of a lot of paperwork. I then asked another one of my friends.
“Do you really have to do that this summer?” Bernice said. “You could plan for the program this summer; maybe even form a club where you can tell others about your work.”
With every person I spoke to, the possibility of the project working out in the summer seemed bleak and this was taking a huge toll on me. Nevertheless, the next week I compiled a list of things I thought would work and sent it to Rohnda. She took a look at it, we later had some discussions and she then reached out to Kara , one of the SHE-CAN staff. We had decided on getting volunteers from SHE-CAN who would be interested in teaching.
Later that week, Rohnda and I had a zoom call with Kara and thankfully, Kara said she could get us some SHE-CAN volunteers; that was good news! My hopes were high. Then came time to raise funds for the project. I had only one strategy which was to send out letters to people and I did, but unfortunately, that didn’t work out. After two weeks, I got back only $50 which was a progress, but not sufficient enough to facilitate the program. I also talked to a few other people I knew, but rarely got anything back. Meanwhile, I’d expected SHE-CAN to fund my project, but it wasn’t a Take The Lead project (SHE-CAN Note: Take The Lead is a community service project all SHE-CAN scholars complete during their candidacy phase), so they couldn’t. We were about two weeks from the program start date, and no money. Additionally, I’d applied for a grant to Muhlenberg, but that didn’t come through, either. At this moment, I was losing hope.
“There was no way this could work, ” I said to myself, “Besides, is it worth it?” My friend Ornella gave me a new perspective that evening over dinner when she said, “I wanted to do a book project for kids, but what’s the point if they don’t know how to read? I love your idea of teaching the girls writing and I think that’s what I need to do first.”
Finally, following Rohnda’s advice, I tried Gofundme, and fortunately that worked.We were able to raise a significant amount of money that funded the writing course, providing internet data for the girls and a cash price for the writing competition we had at the end. Classes began that next week with eleven students signing up and successfully ended on July 30! Although we had more struggles such as choosing the most appealing curriculum and getting the students to stay committed to attending, the summer writing project was very productive. It taught me and the students the value and joy in sharing one’s story and a lot more than that, it taught me that nothing worthwhile comes easy. For things to happen, work has to be done and even though things don’t always come easy, trying is better than not doing anything.
It also taught me the importance of having a goal and a plan. Ideas are great, but without a plan they’re doomed to fail and when you don’t have a plan, ask others for help. “Write Right” also taught me to look at things from multiple different lenses: others’ perspectives simply put.
In the middle of the course, some of the students had a struggle staying committed to attending classes and doing the homework, and that infuriated me a bit, because I thought to myself, “What other thing could be preventing them from doing the assignments if they don’t have to buy their own internet data?” In the last session we asked the students what kept them from doing the writing. We learned there were more factors in their complicated lives other than data that hindered their motivation and desire to continue the class. In future projects, I hope to help support them in navigating some of their problems.
Finally, the Liberian “Write Right” project taught me that even the little things mattered as long as they made an impact on someone’s life. The Liberian “Write Right” summer program was fantastic and I am privileged to have been a part of the team that formed and made it work.