Hamilton man, former civil war refugee championing construction of Liberian Learning Centre

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Published February 6, 2024 at 10:08 am

Liberian Learning Centre

A Liberian refugee who found a new home in Hamilton is giving back to his civil war-scarred homeland with the Liberian Learning Centre, an education and recreation facility in Paynesville, Liberia set for its official dedication February 23.

The opening of the learning centre marks a pivotal moment in the history of a country whose people suffered through two civil wars (1989-1997 and 1999-2003) that left a quarter of a million dead and tens of thousands more displaced.

Leo Nupolu Johnson, the executive director of Canadian charity Empowerment Squared, is one of those displaced by the wars in Liberia and has spearheaded the campaign to get the learning centre built.

Leo Nupolu Johnson, the executive director of Empowerment Squared and the man spearheading the Liberian Learning Centre project

Born in Liberia, Johnson lived through almost a decade of war before fleeing the country and spending eight years living in refugee camps in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana before resettling in Canada and Hamilton in 2006.

“The Liberian Learning Centre is more than a building; it’s a pathway to a prosperous future through education. We thank our partners and look forward to celebrating this transformative moment with the people of Liberia on February 23.”

Johnson and the rest of the team behind the learning centre, which will be built in three phases, are hoping this initiative will help address the educational challenges faced by Liberia, including low literacy rates and damaged schools.

The Liberian Learning Centre is more than a building, Johnson said, adding that It symbolizes a “pathway to a prosperous future” through education. The building’s dedication this month also highlight’s Johnson’s own journey from Liberian refugee to a leader making a significant impact in Hamilton and underscores the power of resilience and the potential for positive change.

Johnson is not the only Hamilton connection involved in the project. Hamilton-based architects mcCallumSather have been leading the design process since its inception more than a decade ago.

“We have a commitment to environmental consciousness, ensuring the Liberian Learning Centre becomes a sustainable and vibrant hub for generations to come,” said Principal Architect Willems Ransom. “The visionary leadership of Leo Nupolu Johnson and the collaboration between all partners have laid the foundation for this transformative initiative.”

The center is being built in multiple phases on the site of Paynesville City Hall and will include Liberia’s first postwar comprehensive learning center and library, co-working and business incubation spaces, sports and recreation facilities and event facilities. Phase 1 will host a wide range of programs, including information literacy, educational programming, computer training, life skills, personal and career path development and peer-to-peer mentorship.

The complex is designed to “reshape” the educational landscape of the region and provide access to diverse learning resources for more than 250,000 members of the Liberian community.

Liberia, with its rich history and symbolic name, has faced the challenges of those devastating civil wars, leaving scars and destruction that persist even today. The entire region suffered through civil conflicts at the end of the last century – neighbouring Sierra Leone’s civil war (1991-2002) was the subject of the Leo DiCaprio/Djimon Hounsou film Blood Diamond – and the Liberian Learning Centre is a response to those challenges, aiming to equip the youth and citizens with the tools and resources required to build a better future.

The project hopes to address the nation’s low literacy rates and high unemployment by providing comprehensive learning spaces, recreation facilities, and a modern conference centre.

The Liberian Learning Centre is a collaborative project in partnership with Rotary International, Rotary Club of Hamilton, Rotary Club of Monrovia, Paynesville City Corporation, mcCallumSather, Hamilton Public Library, and Tri Buchanan Development Corp.

Donors have funded most of Phase 1 construction costs. About $1.5 million more will be needed to complete the final two phases.

Learn more and donate at www.liberianlearningcenter.com

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