Written by Stephen B. Lavalah, Contributing Writer
Monday, 13 August 2012 06:24
It was a beautiful sunny Friday evening in downtown Monrovia on August 10, 2012 and sunshine seems unending even during the late part of the day. Indeed, it was astonishing because August is one of the rainy months in Liberia. So, for a young man without appropriate rain gears or facilities for locomotion, I began very much excited about the meteorological condition, because of its ensuing advantage. From the soon-to-be dedicated Youth Exploring Solutions Headquarters in Nay Glay’s Town, Lower Johnsonville, Montserrado County; I unrelentingly maneuvered through gigantic traffic congestion along Somalia Drive and Bushrod Island and finally arrived on Broad Street – the epicenter and stoppage point for most taxi drivers. The Street was full of many people roaming here and there in search of survival in the midst of abundant natural resources and a climatic condition favorable to agricultural activities. Besides, peddlers and marketers comprising mostly of young people crowded the Street and impeded the movement of people and vehicles. However, in the end, I managed to reach my ultimate destination on a motorcycle taking into consideration time factor and my eagerness to bid farewell to one of America’s finest and venerable pundits.
From all indications, it was an ecstasy and a great glee to have been granted an invitation to attend the farewell reception in honor of an illustrious and outstanding United States diplomatic prodigy, Madam Dehab Ghebreab, the outgoing Public Affairs Officer (PAO). With habitual smiles, she warmly introduced me to the Chargé d' Affaires, His Excellency Ambassador Michael Arietti. It was shocking for a young man that has got neither high-profile job nor connection with the ruling establishment to be given such wondrous opportunity.
Score of eminent and astute Liberians, members of the diplomatic corps, Embassy staffers, proficient journalists, renowned musicians and a whole lot of famous dignitaries rise to the occasion in spite of enormous tasks and busy schedules. Everyone clustered in a group that seems most familiar, but intermittently shift to another while wining and dining. A projector displayed photographs highlighting some of the PAO’s activities carried out from 2009 up till now.
As the program kicked off, every speaker opened their repertoire for well-mannered and heaping superlatives adjectives to best describe Dehab as most of the speakers referred to this ingenious character. First and foremost, Ambassador Arietti took the lead and depicted Dehab that she has got the ability to control the weather. The Public Affairs Section aides read an official statement full of lots of commendations and admiration and as well contained a tone of compassionate deportment exhibited by an incredible diplomat. Her staffers recounted that she served as a great team leader, a magnificent photographer, an excellent speaker, a keen observer, a majestic adapter of culture, a caring mother with a humanitarian personality who is always willing to share, motivate and enlighten people to aspire for greatness and meet the challenges of the new age.
The testimony from Dehab’s subordinates looked as if there was no room for any further praises; notwithstanding, to my utmost surprised countless adoration were yet to come. The State Exchange Alumni Association of Liberia (SEAL) took the podium and acclaimed words of gratitude to the PAO for being the architect behind the formation of SEAL. One of the Alumni, a long time companion and mentor, Eddie D. Jarwolo, executive director of the National Youth Movement for Transparent Elections – Partners for Democratic Development revealed that he did not know how he got selected for a fellowship to visit the United States of America. In addition, James Koryor of the Consolidated Youth for Peace and Development was recently called upon to sign a grant to his greatest astonishment. These and many stunning situations clearly demonstrate the outgoing PAO integrity, sincerity and capacity.
Amazingly, one of Liberia’s veteran and notable journalist and author, Kenneth Y. Best, Managing Publisher of the Daily Observer newspaper who have past threescore years and ten, jumped to the platform apparently to portray his strength and endurance. The well-learned and knowledgeable statesman recounted America’s historic partnership with Liberia and wished Dehab all the best that life has got to offer. He praised her for being a distinguished diplomat. Although Bai Best was not included in the official program, the experienced senior citizen cleverly managed to squeeze his son for a brief remark. Bai who posted a question that was labeled “a brilliant question” by President Barrack Obama in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on August 3, 2010 pointed out that Dehab has a remarkable and indefatigable temperament. The Press Union of Liberia President asserted that of all the PAO’s he had interacted with, Dehab was an exceptional character and determined to achieve optimum results. He further stated that more training and travel opportunities were granted to Liberian journalists during Dehab’s tenure as PAO.
The Cultural Ambassador of Liberia and Executive Director of the Crusaders for Peace, Juli Endee took the stage and revered Ambassador Arietti and venerated Dehad along with her husband Benyam Yessus with Liberian chieftain attire. Even though, the Public Affairs Section and SEAL presented similar clothes to the PAO and her spouse, sadly none those who handed over the outfits including Ambassador Endee ever wore anything similar to the gift being submitted. Perhaps, one can only hypothesize that Dehad might utilize the garments as souvenirs, since in fact she did barely see most people wearing any Liberian ‘country cloth’. Howbeit, SEAL offered another painted photo of Dehab while an executive officer of Child Arts Liberia who represented Liberia Artist and Crafter Association presented a gorgeous graphic art.
At long last, the honoree herself took the rostrum in a blissful mood. She thanked everyone for the turnout and cordial partnership with the American Embassy. The outgoing PAO expressed delight and stressed that she was humbled and honored for the recognition and ornate speeches from various speakers. In a prolific and thought-provoking text speech, Dehab narrated how she was always told upon taking over a new assignment that she had a “Big Shoe to fill”, but divulged that she was never intimidated. Undisputedly, Dehab has filled many big shoes with stupendous achievements and amiable comportment. For typical example, while serving as the senior cultural affair officer in Abuja, Nigeria, the second largest public diplomacy programme in Africa, she received a Superior Honor Award for enhancing and expanding the programme in Northern Nigeria. Moreover, Dehab served as deputy chief at the Fulbright Teacher/Administrator Exchange Program where she performed administrative and programmatic duties. In that job she travelled to London, Paris, Bonn, and Budapest to meet with Ministry of Education officials to select Fulbright Program participants. She has got over a decade of experience in cultural exchange programs management.
With all the flowery expression of admiration, this au fait diplomat disclosed that she had travelled to eleven of the fifteen political subdivisions of Liberia, excluding Gbarpolu, Rivercess and Grand Kru counties. As a matter of fact, she had travelled through the deplorable, dusty and dark green forest road to reach Maryland County. In a gathering of mostly Liberians, Dehab affirmed that she knows more about Liberia than some countrymen. Thus, she has become well-informed about Africa’s oldest independence nation through reading and outreaching initiatives, which is for the most part extremely difficult for most of the population due to high illiteracy rate, skyrocketing tuition and other fees, inaccessibility of schools, deficiency of qualified teachers, lack of equipped library, laboratory and inadequate furniture leading to pitiable learning environment.
More to the point, awful road conditions in most part of the country hinder the free movement of people. Consequently, there are many Liberians who have got no understanding of their culture, tradition and language. Yet again, other Liberians who received some form of education can rarely read newspapers let alone books and so most of these groups of people are not knowledgeable about their country’s rich history. What is even more frustrating, disheartening and troubling is that a good number of Liberians are unable to recite the National Anthem as evident in the 2011 general and presidential elections debate on Truth FM and many functions?
During such joyous occasion, Dehab could not hold back her challenges, but instead decided to unveil it to the audience. She outlined lack of good infrastructure and expense of doing business in Liberia as two of the most serious challenges facing the country. The diplomatic guru expounded that the country’s infrastructural facilities is far below average and need to be speedily improved. She further explicated that the US Embassy incurred lots of expenses to send its staff and other groups for advanced training and program because in most instances the Embassy of those countries are not accredited near Monrovia. As a result, extra cost is encountered, which according to her could be used for different developmental projects.
Great fortune fell upon me, when the Director of Information Resource Center, Belvis introduced Dehab to me in 2011 just before I could sign a grant agreement with the Embassy regarding my speaking obligation at the American Corner Speaker Series. She smilingly greeted me and in a smooth tone said “Thank you very much for coming”. I was amazed and gratified for such privilege, because it was totally a bolt from the blue. Then, when I was invited to a grant signing ceremony of fairly used office equipment and furniture on behalf of the Youth Exploring Solutions (YES), she walked in the hall with her usual modest enthusiasm and spoke to everyone. Dehab was in charge of the role call and when it was YES’s term, she said “I like the name”. Immediately, after the signing ceremony, I began receiving call cards from civil society groups, legendary musicians and had an awesome opportunity to chat with Dehab for the first time and she provided me her call card too.
One of those exciting moments that remain quite memorable was the International Jazz Day celebration. She warmly greeted the guests as always and out of a sudden the screen on which highlights of Jazz was being shown fell. From a distance, I saw Dehab running to erect the screen. Then, I quickly realized that she is a leader willing to serve, a character to emulate, a beacon of hope and a distinct diplomat who is accessible, effective, proficient and efficient.
For and on behalf of YES, I wish Dehab God’s divine protection, favor and unceasing blessing. Thanks for being an inspiration, a great companion and a role model. Goodbye and please remember to have Liberia at your heart while in Abuja, Nigeria.
About the author: Mr. Stephen B. Lavalah is an advocate and the Founder/Executive Director of Youth Exploring Solutions (YES).