- Orphans in Liberia can be required to bring in income even as young as age five or six.
- The income that’s open to them is sex work or selling body parts.
- With education, children can have other ways of bringing in money.
A small school in Monrovia, Liberia, managed to drive all the human traffickers out of its community. What the school did might be a useful tool for other impoverished communities.
The story involves a six-year-old boy, Samuel, and his five-year-old sister, Hawa. The two were orphaned and ended up in the care of their uncle and his girlfriend, known to them as “Auntie.”
Sex Traffickers and Body Brokers
Life for orphans can be hard, and for Samuel and Hawa life might also have been short. Soon after being taken in, Auntie told the children, “Little boy, little girl, you are a burden to our family. We can’t keep feeding you. You need to start bringing in some money.”
Samuel was only six, but he understood what would happen to him and his sister if they didn’t start making a livelihood. They’d be thrown out of the house and almost immediately become prey for the local sex trafficker in the case of Hawa or the body broker in the case of Samuel.
Body brokers harvest and sell body parts. If Samuel fell into their hands, one of his kidneys would be sold for $600 USD. In the best-case scenario, he’d get to keep $100 USD. He could give the money to his family in return for their not throwing him and his sister out on the street.
However, whether he’d even survive the operation, let alone get any money, was uncertain. After all, what’s to stop the organ harvester from taking both kidneys and therefore not having to give him any money?
An Egg A Day Keeps the Bad Guys Away
Fortunately, Samuel developed a way to avoid this fate. With Hawa’s help, he managed to buy an egg for one dollar. The children took it to market and sold the egg for $1.50. With the profit, they bought more eggs until soon they were buying six at a time at the wholesale price of 75¢ an egg.
Now that they were contributing financially, Auntie viewed the two children as an asset. The money the children were now providing meant the difference between rice on the table or hunger.
Because the children were now valuable to Auntie, Samuel could ask her permission for himself and Hawa to attend the nearby Leaders Yielding 2 New Knowledge Foundation (LY2NK Foundation) Leadership Academy, founded by Tatiana Mersiadis and Dr. Robin Bersson. Given that there was no tuition required, and the hours allowed the children to continue buying and selling eggs, Auntie agreed.
This school believes in teaching life skills and encouraging entrepreneurship. So in addition to the Three Rs, the teachers offered Samuel business advice. He learned to pay the wholesaler extra to get the freshest eggs, rather than the two-week-old ones. His teachers encouraged him to build a reputation for selling the best eggs, so people would come to him first.
With advice, encouragement, and the help of the school’s financial literacy curriculum, Samuel was soon hiring other neighborhood kids. He shortly created a sales force of 20 children.
A Ripple Effect
The ripple effect turned out to be enormous. Education not only changed the fate of Samuel and Hawa, but it showed many others how to provide for their families as well. Sex trafficking and organ harvesting were no longer the only options for families struggling to survive. Soon more and more parents allowed their children to attend the free neighborhood school.
So many children became empowered with useful skills, the sex traffickers and body brokers moved out of the community. Education was breaking the cycle of poverty, and doing it in a long-term, low-cost, sustainable way.
Long Term Impact of Education
LY2NK Foundation knows that many organizations fight sex trafficking. In LY2NK’s experience, there’s always the danger that the help such organizations provide may be only temporary. LY2NK works to make permanent changes. “In Samuel’s school, we are empowering more than 200 students and their families to learn the skills and mindset to create a better life,” says Mersiadis.
The school in Monrovia starts with a nursery-age program. As Mersiadis and Bersson both know, the younger the children start, the more impact the school can have.
The LY2NK Foundation’s dream is that education will one day be a right in all countries. The Foundation’s dream is to be a beacon of hope for the children and their families. Members of the Foundation believe that the fate of the world will change when there’s no longerfirst-world countries or second- or third-world countries—but when all are first.