...Medina Wesseh is senior executive assistant to Pres. Sirleaf.
...In 2000, ex-combatants working for the government of Liberia stormed the home of noted journalist and social worker Medina Wesseh, an assault from which she luckily escaped.
In a country that has suffered through 25 years of dictators and 15 years of civil war, this event was tragically unremarkable.However, as Liberia has changed, Ms. Wesseh's
role has changed as well.She
is now a public face of the government, as chief of staff to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.An expert in communications, civil society, women's rights, and education, part of Wesseh's task is rebuilding public faith in democracyâ€"daunting work in a country that has for decades known only corruption and suffering.
From 1980 until 2003, Liberia was embroiled in a bloody civil war that pitted corrupt government forces against several warring factions.Characterized by coups, targeting of civilians, and the use of child soldiers, the war quickly expanded into neighboring countries, spreading and exacerbating instability in West Africa.Over a third of Liberians were displaced from their homes, and the country's economy and infrastructure were left in ruins.In Ms. Wesseh's
view, "there was a complete breakdown of norms, of traditional authority, of civil authorityâ€¦and as a result, a lot of the valuesâ€"decency, moralityâ€"are all missing.They're not completely lost, but there are certainly some things that are missing."As inheritors of an ugly legacy, the Johnson Sirleaf administration is fighting an uphill public relations battle in a country where literacy rates are below 40 percent.Realizing that providing improved educational opportunities, particularly for women, would be essential to creating a positive image of government, President Johnson Sirleaf
appointed Ms. Wesseh
as her chief of staff.
...Prior to joining the Johnson Sirleaf administration, Ms. Wesseh served as the chairperson of the National Task Force on Prioritizing Girl's Education and Women's Empowerment.
tenure, the Ministry of Education adopted the 1993 Ouagadougou Declaration on the Girl Child in its national curriculum plan.Published as the result of a joint UNESCO/UNIFEM conference, the declaration called for drastic improvement in education for girls.Ms. Wesseh
work in education and women's rights are inextricably connected, as education is a crucial piece of women's meaningful participation in the reconstruction of Liberia.As Ms. Wesseh
says, "If there is anything that anyone can do to have a significant impact five years down the roadâ€¦if there's any area that one can make and see changes in the lives of people, that would be educationâ€"education for development, education for the enhancement of the social structure of women."That Liberia five years down the road, in which educational equality has resulted in a more inclusive, productive, and secure environment, will be Medina Wesseh's legacy. Ms. Wesseh's
recent appointment in government has already begun to benefit the people of Liberia, in part because she
has extensive experience as a leader of the women's movement.As acting coordinator of the Women's Consultative Group of Liberia, she identified barriers to coordination among women's NGOs in Liberia.
Later, as national coordinator of the Women's NGO Forum
in Liberia, she
developed a mechanism to coordinate that group's efforts with those of the Liberian government, the United Nations, and domestic and international NGOs.Ms. Wesseh has also worked as a consultant for numerous international organizations, including the UN Economic Commission for Africa.
Despite having worked for USAID, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency), and UNIFEM
(UN Development Fund for Women), she
says that she
is most proud of what she
is doing now, working with President Johnson Sirleaf
to improve the image of government and the standard of education.She
feels that thanks to President Johnson Sirleaf
, "now we have a government who can turn things around and bring back hope, and give some signals that things are about to change."Ms. Wesseh's
desire is for her
work to set an example in Liberia, so that "we build our lives and look forward to the next generation taking over and ensuring that it is for posterity and for our children's children."