Speaking to a crowd of more than 1,000 Liberians and friends of Liberia who had converged on Chicago from all points in the US Midwest to greet her on the first leg of a 3-day private visit, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said that a "new dawn has come in Liberia," adding that "Liberia is on the verge of standing up again, to be a shining star in Africa."
The event, which was organized by the Consul General of Liberia in Chicago, Mr. Alexander P. Gbaye and the Organization of the Liberian Community (OLCI) in Illinois with the participation of the City of Chicago and a host of Liberian and American civil organizations that included the Africa International House and the NAACP branch of Illinois brought together Liberians residing in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. In his speech, Mr. Gbaye said that an important aspect of the presidency of Mrs. Sirleaf was that it brings so much pride in the hearts of Liberians.
Responding to welcoming words by the president of the OLCI, Mr. Gaye Sleh, President Sirleaf began her remarks by saying: "The War is Over!", a pronouncement that drew joyous reaction from the crowd. Liberians, both at home as well as in the Diaspora, are still dealing with lingering doubts about the reality of peace and stability. This may be due to the fact that they have witnessed so much false starts in their short lives that many have difficulty in believing that the nightmares that rocked their lives for so long is really over. But the president insisted that Liberians must truly believe in peace, national reconciliation and development for any of these factors to take hold.
Mrs. Sirleaf said the war was over but asked Liberians to remain vigilant, because "there are those who thrive in chaos and disorder" and she asked her compatriots to never allow anyone to divide them to the point of partitioning the nation among warring factions. "We must never again allow ourselves to be taken apart by those who have no regard for the common good."
The president said that "because of her tremendous natural resources and the great human potential, especially amongst the members of the Diaspora, Liberia can really turn the page in the shortest time. "Our country has been blessed and we must thank the Lord for it." However, the president added, "Liberians must first reconcile their differences and this must come from the heart, because no one can legislate reconciliation."
On the podium where she was flanked by City Mayoress of Monrovia, Ophelia Saytumah and the Reverend Jesse Jackson, President Sirleaf said that the nation owes a debt of gratitude to Liberians in the Diaspora, who, through their remittances, have kept the national economy alive when everything else failed. But she added that now that peace has returned and is really taking hold, "those who can, must now think about returning home to lend their talents to the reconstruction process. And, if you cannot go home now, you can find a way to share your talents with us and we welcome it."
In the course of the evening, many organizations and individuals made presentations to Liberia, in the form of two garbage trucks from the city of Chicago, 35,000 textbooks for colleges from a private foundation and 35 all expenses paid scholarships for Liberians students to attend nursing schools in Chicago.
While in the Illinois metropolitan city, the president is scheduled to be the guest of honor to a breakfast meeting and prayer hosted by Congressman Jesse Jackson who was instrumental in obtaining $50 million in US federal aid for Liberia, the Mayor of Chicago, and the governor of Illinois before taping a a program on the Oprah Show to be broadcast later this month.
The President said although she was bringing a message of hope from home, the stark realities are there. She spoke of the difficulties faced by the youth, who are not able to attend school either because there were no schools in many areas, or because the parents could not afford to send them to school. She spoke of the conditions of the women and the children. "There is hope and we can move this country forward but there are great challenges that we must look in the face and tackle." In conclusion she said, "but together, we can turn every stumbling block into a stepping stone."
2006 by The Perspective