What would you do, if your life is on the desk for speaking out the truth? This month Liberian Stars Views (LSV) features Liberian Humanitarian/Philanthropist/Advocate Dr. Kimmie L. Weeks. Dr. Kimmie L. Weeks downplayed the words of former President Charles G. Taylor to continue to speak the truth even when the atmosphere and the odds don’t speak in favor of him. Before heading into the interview, let me just brief you up on Dr. Kimmie L. Weeks.
At a very tender age, Dr. Kimmie L. Weeks was a young normal boy living in Liberia. By age 9 he was in the midst of Liberia’s brutal civil war. This war was a reason or part of the reason that he is an advocate for youth who dedicated his life to speaking on behalf of teenagers across the globe when he saw family and friends being killed, others taken up as child soldiers, and others dead because of famine and disease.
At age 10, Dr. Kimmie L. Weeks came face-to-face with death after he was diagnosed of dying slowly from contaminated water and malnutrition after the National Water supply line was cut off and there was little or no food. In fact, the men of his village have already dug up a grave to place him in when his mother stood firmed and decreed that her son still have life. However, with God being God Dr. Kimmie L. Weeks survived the horror of that day and vowed that if he made it through the war, through his time at the refugee camp, he would spend the rest of his life working for the rights of children and ensuring that no child would have to face the same plight that he and so many other children have experienced.
At age 13, Dr. Kimmie L. Weeks founded Voice of the Future, Liberia’s first child rights advocacy and humanitarian organization ran by young people. At age 15, he launched the Children’s Disarmament Campaign, working with UNICEF to help end Liberia’s civil war and to disarm the estimated 15,000-20,000 child soldiers caught in the midst of it. At age 16, when the disarmament occurred, Dr. Kimmie L. Weeks then created Liberia’s first children’s information service, The Children’s Bureau of Information, which “worked to reintegrate former child soldiers into the community.” By then, the war had taken the lives of 10% of Liberia’s population, yet Dr. Kimmie L. Weeks somehow found hope to press forward in his mission. In less than one decade, Dr. Kimmie L. Weeks had been displaced from his home, forced to leave school, lost family and friends to civil war, nearly died of a disease and starvation, and yet he have also rebounded to push through 3 powerful projects aimed at restoring hope. This is more than most people experience or accomplish in a lifetime, let alone before reaching adulthood. Now, let’s dive straight into the interview.
LSV: Welcome Dr. Kimmie L. Weeks to Liberian Stars Views.
Dr. Weeks: Oh, It’s a pleasure.
LSV: Many people may have heard about Dr. Kimmie Weeks, but may not know you. Can you kindly tell who Dr. Kimmie Weeks is?
Dr. Weeks: Well, Kimmie Weeks was born in Liberia, grew up in Liberia, and went to Isaac David School and Rock International before leaving for the U.S. for political asylum. The political asylum came about because of the work I was doing in Liberia, before the war we was working against the use of children in civil conflict. When I left Liberia I went to the U.S. I studied at Amber’s College and the University of Pennsylvania. I came back to Liberia in 2007, and I have been here since working in various capacities with my organization Youth Action International. Also, I served as the chairman of board for Liberia Water & Sewage Corporation and Clinical RM. Most people know me for my role at Cellcom wish I resigned from and that’s basically me in a nutshell.
LSV: Growing up in a war torn country, how was it like for you?
Dr. Weeks: I was 9, at the point when the war started. So, obviously I was very young. It was a different reality before the war as we grew up in the 80’s; we were surrounded by a sense normalcy, there were lots of development and progress that were happening and then obviously with the onset of the war a lot of that was destroyed, in fact most of that was destroy and till now we are still going through the process of rebuilding Liberia, but it was not easy. It was something that was very difficult to go through and I think this is the message for all young people today because we talk about maintaining the peace especially for young people who were not born or old enough to understand the nature of war, it goes beyond just the idea of maintaining peace and the real risk to all of us when we return to war. This is sometime we cannot allow and for young people this is something we should push against as it is a greater risk for young people than anyone else.
LSV: Much gratitude you pay is mostly own to your mother, tell us about the bond between both of you.
Dr. Weeks: Yes, obviously and my mother was a single mother. We grew up in ELWA Junction, she was a strong force and her hard works make sure I got the foundation and led me to where I am today. So, lot of credits goes to her and I think between parents and young people that recognition should always be there to ensure success. It’s basically education and a solid one I mean because there is a time when school becomes so boring or tedious and there is no need to perform beyond expectation, but I think from where I sit and what I have been able to accomplish the foundation for that was education. I was reading one past articles on sex for grades and unfortunately that is something that is happening and needs to be fought against and to the mothers and fathers, it is something we got to take a stand against; but, the most important message is for the young people because if you’ve been met with these obstacles is very critical as the teacher won’t be there 10 or 20 years from now. It is very essential to have the best from education that you can have right now.
LSV: Tell us about Youth Action International, its objectives, other countries that it is in and what is it entirely about?
Dr. Weeks: Youth Action is an organization I actually started back in college, the whole idea of the organization was to help get young Americans linked in to support young people in postwar African Countries. After we started in U.S. we expanded our work into Africa, we work in both East and West Africa in countries like Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Our work focuses on education, health care, and economic empowerment for young people. So, a big part of it is on education which is mainly based on early childhood education, health care which is basically about awareness about STD’s, Teenage Pregnancy, STI’s etc. and finally, our big front which is the economic empowerment which has to do with vocation training, mentorship training programs, etc. that will build the capacities of young people. It’s an organization that I am very proud of despite all of my other engagements and it remains focus on empowering young people.
LSV: Tell us about some of your projects.
Dr. Weeks: Right now we are building a school just about completion in Harbel, Margibi County. It’s going to be a state of the art institution and will host up to 600 students. We’ve been working on that for several years now, but just the complex alone is massive. We have a program for young high school women and that is done at our center for women in Duport Road which also do vocational education like tailoring, computing etc. that’s our current projects now in a nutshell. We also work with schools, early childhood schools to provide basic education training and to give them the boost to create that foundation.
LSV: What caused the breaking away with former President Charles G. Taylor?
Dr. Weeks: Well that’s the early point I was talking about, back in 90’s we ran a group called ‘Voice of the Future Inc.’; it was a group of young people who were working together to raise awareness on children’s right and this was immediately after April 6, 1996. We started something called the children disarmament campaign where we were working to get child soldiers off the streets and on a similar front we was doing the voice of the future when we started something called the children’s bureau of information. That organization was to get child soldiers off the streets and to help former child soldiers get back into the society, we worked with Search for Common Ground and we have great people with us who today are some of the leading journalist. Prince Collins unfortunately passed away who pulled a string for the BBC and Jallah Garfield whose now at PUL we all started together, but doing that process I started to investigate the training of child soldiers at Camp Schufflin and the report was published. That cost the entire government sends out a force to search for us at that point I was in 12 grade, Police Director Gregory Coleman and I was in the same class together. Since we were close, I went into hiding while unfortunately he was caught; I think that led to him joining the police force and wanting to make it a better place since that capture and torture. Eventually, I went to the U.S. and the rest of it is history.
LSV: You’ve won many awards in your lifetime as an advocate and a generous person, what does it mean to you entirely?
Dr. Weeks: Well, I think it always good to be acknowledged. Yes, I have won many awards and accolades around the world, at home and abroad. For me I think it creates a passion for me wanting to do more, but what I thinks matter is when the beneficiaries can come back to say thank you and those who have benefited from our scholarship programs which is something I didn’t mention, but we have an ongoing scholarship programs for young people. It just gave you the drive and passion to want to do more.
LSV: Well, let’s talk about teenagers and things affecting them. Let’s talk about kids selling in the street, sexual exploitation etc. what’s your say on them?
Dr. Weeks: Obviously, one thing in Liberia is that many teens are going through so much and there’s this financial crisis that is affecting lots of families and I think because of this financial crisis lots of teens to do what they do. I don’t think for the most part that any young woman jumps up and says my career is to be a prostitute, I think that most families prefer their children to be in school than to sell, but these financial constraints are creating a huge and devastating effect on our people. The truth to those who are perpetrating any acts that affect these teens they should also be at knowledge that they are affecting the country as well. They are affecting and negatively impacting Liberia, we have to do what we call ‘Out of the Box’ thinking and find new ways; unfortunately, I have said this multiple times that we are so dependent on government and I think there have to be of a self-push especially from young people who needs to work together. This is something I really want to see, I remember that I big part of what we were doing when I was coming up wasn’t just establishing these organization and talking about ills in society, but also implementing it. Many people thinks to start an NGO they need much, you don’t need to have employees to think you are an NGO because when we started- series of our first NGOs were called NGO in a file as we didn’t have office space. One thing I want to encourage young people about is about volunteering for some NGOs, many high school graduates have not for volunteer for a single organization and never even been a part of a club and think that have an effect on them finding a job because employers looks at the CV and when they see that you have not been in any organization or have not volunteer any they turn you down. Why you can’t find a job something is just because of your CV’s. Another thing is that many young people are out of jobs because they have not tried multiple places, it is true the job is not plentiful and job is scares, but many young people need to put the effort. Many of the people who work for me didn’t actually apply, they just said they wanted internship and it converted into a job because you always wonder how to penetrate into the system and volunteerism and internship is the easiest way.
LSV: Do you think sensitization or dissimilation of message is better than implementation?
Dr. Weeks: Aah, there are different interventions that different organizations can do. My organization for example runs vocational training center and there are people who can do information dissimilation as well. There are things in our society that is becoming like normal, which is not good and when it continues people will think it is normal. Like let’s visit the issue of sex for grade, it must be highlighted and focused on because it is becoming normal part of life for school and unless there is a lot of sensitization, unless there’s information dissimilation this generation or the future generation will think that it is quite normal to sleep with their teacher for grade. This should not happen and any teacher caught in such an act should be disgraced to the highest level and I think it is something people have to do to make a decision to stop such acts.
LSV: What will be your words of advice to the upcoming youths who look to you and you final words?
Dr. Weeks: I always tell people don’t follow Kimmie Weeks, do something bigger than I have though it is important to look up to people, but we have to go our own way and do something extra to impact the lives of others. I want every young people to strive for greatness, no matter how small things might be let them continue with time and effort it can be accomplished. So, that’s my word as you can see behind me the last line of my favorite quote is never ever gave up and I think that’s the message every young person needs to know, dream, implement it and never ever gave up.
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