By Clayton Louis Ferrara
Before I left for Africa, in a time that seems like a lifetime ago, I spent my last night in the United States on a quiet beach at night, alone with my thoughts gazing across a great and wide sea. Beneath heaven itself on the east coast of Florida, I thought of the journey I was about to take to a place I have dreamt of all my life. Africa, the cradle of civilization, the place my ancestors walked out of some incomprehensibly long time ago, a place where goodness and evil were born together as siblings to spread across the Earth. To most Americans, the stigma of Africa is one of poverty, of war, and of great suffering. Yet, for me, and IDEAS For Us, Africa is a place of limitless opportunity.
Extraordinary accomplishments are the products of surprisingly simple ingredients. Dreams fueled by unwavering belief in their attainability, coupled with education are responsible for all of our greatest achievements. Here in Liberia, the first country in Africa I have ever set foot in, the same is true.
I am here as a result of a partnership that blossomed in 2013, between IDEAS For Us and Youth Exploring Solutions (YES). YES was founded in 2007 by Stephen Lavalah, a young Liberian, and United States Department of State fellow. Stephen traveled to the United States for four months in 2013 and lived with both myself, and the former executive director of IDEAS For Us, Chris Castro. In that time, he took action in numerous IDEAS events, lectured at American schools, and spoke to American students about how he has a profound vision for a Sustainable Liberia in his mind and in his heart. Together, we were able to put that project into words, and it was chosen as the 2013 project winner of the Continuing Community Partnership Grant by the IREX program.
For the past week since my arrival, I have dressed as a Liberian, I have eaten traditional Liberian food, I have walked for hours through Liberian forests, I have slept the way most Liberians do, and I have listened to Liberian youth speak to me about Liberian problems. The future of the African continent belongs to young Africans, and my message here as been one of encouragement for them to believe in themselves and to break free of the bondage of self-doubt, and self-oppression.
For fourteen days, IDEAS For Us and YES are conducting an ambitious campaign of numerous speaking engagements, lectures, action projects, radio interviews, television talk show appearances, and a two day Leadership Summit to build capacity across the entire country. Together, IDEAS For Us and YES will host the first international Hive event, and conduct action projects in Energy, Water, Food, Waste, and Ecology. In the coming days, I will share what we have seen, learned, and accomplished in each of these areas with the IDEAS Movement. Together, I believe that we can plant the seeds of a Sustainable Liberia.
Yet, if I have learned anything so far in my time here, it is that Liberians are wonderful people, with big dreams that they deserve to see met. However I am not the one to wake their country from this dream. That task belongs to all young Liberians, for they must see their country through this metamorphosis, and I am sure they will. Every day I wake up and say to myself, “I believe in Liberia”, and I know after seeing the great things we have accomplished, you will too.
About the author
Clayton Louis Ferrara is a Chilean-born American naturalist, poet, educator, and popular writer. He is a founding board member of the United Nations accredited environmental action, and advocacy NGO, IDEAS For Us. He has served as National Science Director and South Eastern Regional Director of the USA since stepping off the board in 2012.??His professional career started in South Florida at the age of 12 when he began teaching ecology, conservation, and youth empowerment to the general public as a docent to numerous museums, aquariums, and interpretative nature centers in the area. He received a B.A. in both biology and environmental studies from the prestigious, liberal arts and science college, Rollins. In 2011, he received the honor of being called a Young Alumnus of Significant Distinction for his work to advance sustainability and environmental education in Central Florida. In 2013, he was named a Darwin Scholar by the U.K. based Field Studies Council (FSC) for his accomplishments as a young naturalist on the global stage.