Fighting for a Brighter Future for Girls’ Education

Growing up in Liberia, Annetta Nyanama GS’21 faced limited access to education. Her village had no school, and even after a school was founded, the costs associated with attending were a barrier. But she fought for her education, became an educator herself, and now she’s working to create a better future for other girls like her.

By Cherie Suonvieri '15, GS’21, content specialist

December 14, 2022 | 2 p.m.

Annetta Nyanama GS'21

Annetta Nyanama GS'21

Annetta Nyanama GS’21 is an educator, advocate, and role model for young girls who face barriers to receiving an education. She grew up in Liberia and encountered challenges on her educational journey, but trusting God, she kept moving forward, becoming a teacher and eventually moving to the United States where she earned her M.A. in Education K-12 from Bethel. Today, she’s working toward opening a school in her home country to create a safe and empowering learning environment for young girls like she once was.

The village Nyanama grew up in had no motor road or school. She was able to begin primary school while staying with her uncle who was completing ministry training in Tappita, a neighboring city, but after two years, they returned to Dahnpa. “This broke my heart because I wished to have remained in the city to continue school, but my uncle needed to keep me safe with him or my parents,” Nyanama says.

But the Dahnpa community soon founded a school of its own, enabling Nyanama to continue her education. The community-run school had three classrooms and served more than 90 students. The resources needed to run the school—including teachers’ salaries, school supplies, uniforms, and registration fees—were all funded by the students’ parents.

Nyanama’s parents, who were farmers, sold half of each season’s harvest in order to pay for her education. “It was a difficult task for parents who lived in abject poverty in a developing country to operate a school without government assistance,” Nyanama says. “The most memorable thing for me was that the teacher and the students were always excited to be in school, and this encouraged the parents to continue to support and empower the school community.”

Nyanama completed primary school in Dahnpa and then went on to attend junior high school back in the city of Tappita. Following junior high, she moved to another city to complete high school, which was where she realized she wanted to become an educator herself. She enrolled in a teacher’s training at a junior college and then she returned to her old high school to teach. “I wanted to help young girls like me,” she says. “I realized I could be a role model and an advocate. I didn’t want them to have the experience that I had.”

During the civil war in Liberia, Annetta Nyanama spent several years teaching in a refugee setting. She’s pictured here with some of her students.

During the civil war in Liberia, Annetta Nyanama spent several years teaching in a refugee setting. She’s pictured here with some of her students.

Throughout her life, Nyanama has faced a variety of barriers to her own education, which has instilled in her a passion for making education accessible to young girls in similar situations. She taught language, reading, and literature in Liberia for more than 20 years before moving to the United States to seek further educational opportunities. In spring 2021, she graduated from Bethel’s M.A. in Education K-12 program prepared to expand her impact.

Nyanama’s thesis focused on the barriers girls in Liberia face to receiving an education, as well as what can be done to empower them to stay in school. Some of the barriers Nyanama identified include the cost of textbooks, uniforms, and other school supplies. Additionally, she says, some families will choose to educate their sons, while having their daughters stay at home to care for children or aging family members. Families will also prioritize their daughters’ safety, so when a school is unable to provide necessities like clean water and safe bathrooms—or when attending the school requires travel through unsafe areas—parents will often choose to have their daughters stay home.

Nyanama believes that providing girls with a safe learning environment is the first step in helping them earn their education, and this is a step she’s planning to take herself. Throughout her time at Bethel, Nyanama worked side jobs to raise money, and in her last year she purchased eight acres of land in Liberia where she plans to build a school to educate and empower young girls.

The land is in the same county where Nyanama attended elementary school as a child, and while she is still in the early stages of fundraising, she plans to move back to Liberia and start construction by 2024. The school, she says, will be a safe and empowering place where the Christian faith is incorporated into the curriculum. “It will be a place where I’ll be able to instill what I’ve learned, be an advocate, set an example, and help them be a part of society so they do not have to have the experiences that I did,” Nyanama says.

As Nyanama reflects on her life, her passion for education has been a prominent theme, from the time when she had to advocate for her own education to now when she’s advocating for others. When she first moved to the United States, she says, she was encouraged to pursue other professions, but education is what she knows best. “I just want to see this school become reality,” she says. “I need to be able to serve my community. That’s all I want.” 

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