Zubah Yennego hopes to pursue his graduate degree in the U.S. and return to Liberia to rebuild his country.
Liberia has seen more than its share of violent civil wars and struggles with poverty. But for Zubah Yennego Jr., a visit to America, and to Nazareth College, inspired him to work for change.
“Liberia depends on the young people to move it forward,” said Yennego of his homeland, where half of the population is under the age of 18. “We can only do that through a concrete education.”
As a business management major from Stella Maris Polytechnic, a college in Liberia’s capital city of Monrovia, Yennego built a reputation as a student leader. That combined with his volunteer work in the community made him a perfect candidate for the Study of the U.S. Institutes (SUSIs) for Student Leaders program. “It was a rigorous application process. Many students applied and were interviewed,” said Yennego of the program funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. “I was the only person from Stella Maris selected to go.”
Nazareth’s Center for International Education (CIE) also had to apply as an academic institution to host the SUSIs student leaders. “Our previous work with Washington-based NGOs and the State Department has proven that Nazareth provides students from around the world with a unique educational and professional experience,” said George Eisen, executive director and associate vice president for academic affairs in the CIE.
The CIE received the grant for the five-week program in summer 2011 and hosted 20 student leaders, including Yennego, from Angola, Liberia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, and Sudan.
Once on campus, the student leaders immersed themselves in the political, economic, and cultural aspects of American society through lectures, seminars, discussions and visits to sites that complemented the academics. “Not all learning occurs in the classroom, so we broaden their cultural and educational experience with visits to historical sites and through volunteering in the Rochester community,” said Eisen. For Yennego, the cultural experiences were as important as the classroom lessons. While visiting Nazareth, he formed a friendship with Jarred Jones ’12, a peace and justice studies major. They keep in touch when Yennego is in Liberia, and he stayed with Jones and his family while researching graduate schools.
Now a government employee in the Liberian senate, Yennego said one of the many things he learned during his time at Nazareth was how Americans are taught from a very early age about their constitutional rights. When the SUSIs program was completed and he returned to Liberia, Yennego applied his new knowledge and experiences to creating two educational programs for Liberian youth. First, he brought in Liberian lawyers and lecturers to talk to high school students about the Liberian constitution and their rights. “Liberia has a history of violence. If young people know their rights, I believe this will help calm down the violence,” said Yennego.
His second project involved sharing what he learned about entrepreneurship, volunteerism, and interfaith dialogue during his time at Nazareth with university students in Liberia. “I think volunteering is key to building up Liberia. If young people sacrifice and give of their time to improve their communities, then they are proud and will not go back and destroy those communities.”
Yennego plans to return to the U.S. for his master’s in public policy and is in the process of applying to programs at Cornell, RIT, The College at Brockport, and the University of Rochester. But after graduate school in America, he wants to return to Liberia.
“I want to see how government can use its influence on young graduates to return to their communities and give back. If they build up their communities, they have a sense of appreciation and nationalism. There would be less violence because there’s no way they’d destroy what they’ve sacrificed for.”