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As part of my recent pledge to diversify Africa in DC’s coverage this summer, I sat down with Janice C. Pratt an extremely energetic, focused, and determined young Liberian who has recently come to DC as an Atlas Corps Fellow.  Janice will be bringing her limitless energy as an Atlas Corps Fellow to Worldwatch Institute, which focuses on delivering innovative solution to intractable global environmental issues.

Although Janice just graduated in 2012 from Liberia’s Stella Maris Polytechnic with a BSc. in Economics, she has a wealth of experience to offer in addition to her innovative ideas.  Although the JJ Roberts Foundation Scholarship has recently gotten some bad press, it is to the legacy of Liberia’s first (and nearly white) President that Janice got her start, propelling her to her current course of movie making, radio presenting, and foundation founding.

As an incoming University student, Janice was selected by PSI, a DC-based NGO focusing on public health, for its youth highly competitive youth volunteer program (she was one of four selected out of 500 applicants).  By her third year in the program, Janice was a manager, contributing to the selection of fellow volunteers and travelling the country, producing radio shows on health issues targeting Liberian youth, addressing sensitive topics like teen pregnancy and HIV.

While continuing her work with PSI, in her final year of study Janice also passed a highly competitive process to secure a position with the Governance Commission of Liberia, which is led by Amos Sawyer, a former interim President of Liberia, and connects the government with civil society to craft policy recommendation and implement strategies to reform Liberia’s governance institutions.  She played a key role in formulating governance scorecards, which will soon be presented to President Sirleaf’s administration and the experience also revealed to her that the biggest concern of Liberians is the development of better roads.

Janice is passionate about youth, technology, and multi-media.  She is in the process of launching the Dream Big Foundation (the website is slated to go live June 21 weekend), which will encourage entrepreneurism among youth and provide a platform to engage the latter two areas as well.  Janice, who has been working with a partner based in the UK to launch the Foundation, hopes that it can provide subsidized laptops and help combat the isolation of rural youth.  As she notes, “when you go out of Monrovia, that’s where laptops end.”  Janice recalls her own desire to have a laptop while she was a student and although she is now focusing on larger issues, she is acutely aware of the technology gap in Liberia and adds that “it pains [her] so much that young people in Liberia can’t have these opportunities.”

Although Janice has previously visited the US, she only relocated from Liberia for a brief interlude in the year before Charles Taylor’s 1997 election, which means that she spent almost all of her first 15 years of life in a country in various states of war.  As Charles Taylor’s NPFL and Roosevelt Johnson’s ULIMO – K clashed on April 6, 1996, Janice recalls it being ‘terrifying’ and she fled her home in a panic, fortunately she was rescued by a relative.  She was able to go to Ghana, but without her parents.  Not surprisingly she states, “I wasn’t happy in Ghana, my heart was in Liberia.”

Janice is an ardent Liberian nationalist (although she also notes the importance of the sub-region stating, “the whole region is not happy when one country is unstable”), critical of the massive proliferation of political parties in Liberia.  She thinks that active citizen participation is the key to good governance and lauds Liberia’s move toward decentralization.  Although born and raised in Monrovia, Janice is very concerned about the political engagement of those in the country outside of the capital, which contains rough one third of the country’s population.  Janice is also worried about the tendency of Liberians to idolize political personalities and identifies this as one of the many factors contributing to Liberia’s troubles.  However, she is now optimistic that Liberia’s Vision 2030 national development plan (with which she was closely engaged in her work at the Governance Commission), which was recently adopted will set the country on a strong course for its present and future development.

The role of the female has been much debated in Liberia following the election of President Sirleaf.  Janice adds that Angie Brooks (a UN diplomat and Supreme Court justice) and Leymah Gbowee (a Nobel peace prize laureate) are inspirations to women of her generation.  In regards to Mary Broh, the acting Mayor of Monrovia who was unceremoniously forced out of office, Janice says: “I admire Mary Broh.  She knows how to get a job done…she has a vision and a passion for change.”

Janice also has a vision and a passion for change.  I suspect that in the coming years she will be able to affect a positive change for youth throughout Liberia.  DC Africa watchers should stay tuned.

Readers can listen to some things that Janice (and other Liberian girls) has to tell us about gender and youth in Liberia in this UNICEF video.

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