Taking the LEAP with the Blackstone LaunchPad Sprints - Walker S. Mahn Jr.

Walker S. Mahn is the Programme Director and Founder of LEAP Tutoring, a charitable education initiative borne out of Blackstone LaunchPad's Sprints programme at Trinity College Dublin. Walker has spent the past seven months getting the project off the ground, in both Ireland and Liberia. Today he shares his story.

Origins 

Riding down the red hill to go to work on a warm and sunny morning in Paynesville, Liberia, I could not believe what my eyes were seeing. I knew the more I rationalised this to myself, the more tolerable it would seem. But that particular day was one of those days in which I could no longer ignore what my eyes were seeing.

Seeing multitudes of children in my community, every morning who were still at home, working, playing or just casually moving about was something I could no longer ignore. This situation stirred this deep desire in my heart to finally move to action and it also raised some burning questions.

The first question I had to ask myself was, why are these children not in school? Don’t their parents understand the importance of education? 

Being a Liberian that was raised and educated in America, the values of education were taught to me at an early age. Do these values not resonate with parents in Liberia? But the overbearing presence of poverty was hard to dismiss. I knew it must be the cause.

Poverty in Liberia

The more I observed, the more I realised that my daughter Kelly and the children who live in the same community are in two separate worlds. Kelly is fortunate to have a father and mother who are employed, have a home and can afford to fund her Catholic school primary education and provide meals and medical fees.

The children I observed were not so fortunate. In fact, their story is the unfortunate reality across Liberia: parents are either unemployed, casual labourers, or deceased (either during the civil war or during the recent ebola virus disease outbreak that struck Liberia with the most casualties than any other affected country). These children either live with caretakers or guardians as referred to by Western definitions.

Either way, I could literally see the utter despair and sadness in the eyes of these children as their friends would walk past them, wearing uniforms on their way to school.

This desire to change this situation was so strong and imminent that when I was awarded a scholarship by Irish Aid to study for a Masters degree in Applied Social Research at Trinity College Dublin, I could no longer hold back about these stark realities facing Liberia.

The Creation of LEAP

After a few discussions with the President and Treasurer of Trinity College Dublin's Enactus Society, the Liberian Education Assistance Program (LEAP) was initiated with the support of volunteers from Trinity College Dublin.

Further research confirmed my gut feeling: World Bank and UNICEF statistics both confirmed that 62% of children in Liberia were out of primary school, the world’s lowest enrolment rate. This news was embarrassing as a Liberian, but we as team members of LEAP knew that we could make a difference. 

For a country that is rated the world’s third poorest country, primary education is not free, in fact $150.00 USD is all that is required to complete a year of primary education. But, Liberia’s recent civil war crises that lasted from 1989 to 2003 not only destroyed over 150,000 lives, destroyed major infrastructures and diminished any formal systems in place for protection of children rights, one which is the right to education. 

With an 85% unemployment rate nationally, primary school attendance is now a privilege rather than a right, hence the record breaking low enrolment rate.

Blackstone LaunchPad Sprints

Thus, when Blackstone Lauchpad at Trinity offered an opportunity for mentorship and development through a competitive programme called the LaunchPad Sprints. I was very excited what this meant for LEAP. After meeting with the Blackstone Launchpad at Trinity team and its managers, who initially met with our project team, we entered the LaunchPad Sprints programme. 

And due to our participation in this startup incubator, we received our first funding and our first official partnership, which subsequently led to more partnerships and funding through Blackstone Launchpad at Trinity's promotional and networking events.

From Right to Left: Walker S. Mahn, Jr./Founder and Programme Director, Arun Adrios/Head of Marketing and Ritika Chouchan/ Head of Finance at the Blackstone Lauchpad TCD Space.

From Right to Left: Walker S. Mahn, Jr./Founder and Programme Director, Arun Adrios/Head of Marketing and Ritika Chouchan/ Head of Finance at the Blackstone Lauchpad TCD Space.

Within seven months, with sponsorship from Blackstone Lauchpad at Trinity and the Graduate Student Union (GSU) of Trinity College Dublin, Enactus TCD, private donors and corporate sponsorship and with the tireless efforts of the LEAP programme team in Ireland and in Liberia, we are humbled to announce that a community assessment conducted in Paynesville, Liberia by the Programme Coordinator and Project Officers have registered 50 children on to the LEAP programme. 

This is a low number in some ways but every great journey begins with one step. LEAP has implemented the first phase of the programme, and we now have a local office space in Liberia and are gearing up to receive sponsorship from both Irish based and Liberian based organisations.

How LEAP Works

Our goal is provide quality education to our student beneficiaries from primary school right through to high school in order to avoid any disruption in their educational process. We accomplish this through fundraising, social awareness and a cultural exchange programme.

A primary education scholarship can be provided to LEAP beneficiaries for only €150 a year. Our partnership with Living Faith Elementary School, a reputable Primary School located in the heart of Paynesville, implements the scholarships on our behalf and provides monthly reports on the progress of each scholarship recipient.

Gift Programme for new beneficiaries at the LEAP Sub office in Paynesville, Liberia. With Monica, Project Coordinator (Liberia), March 17, 2017.

Gift Programme for new beneficiaries at the LEAP Sub office in Paynesville, Liberia. With Monica, Project Coordinator (Liberia), March 17, 2017.

Going Forward: Our Goals and Plans

Phase 1: September 2016 – March 2017

I was so excited going to Liberia and witnessing the work of LEAP project team in Liberia headed by Monica, who has helped implement the pilot phase of the programme. Phase one of the Liberian Education Assistance Program witnessed the funding of four primary school scholarships for our beneficiaries: Mamie Jallah, Sarah Jallah, Oretha Momo and Precious Taylor.

During this phase, we have secured an office space in Paynesville, Liberia to run our operations which will be utilised by the Programme Coordinator, Finance Officer and Programme Officers, whom are all volunteers with a passion for improving the educational opportunities for Liberian children.

Phase 2: April 2017 – September 2017

The second phase of the Liberia Education Assistance Program (LEAP) strives to enrol 46 children on the programme by September 2017, which requires funding of €6,900. The eight year running of LEAP is around €60,000, which we will aim for. We had only 20 children registered until recently, now we have increased that number to 50. We expect this number to continue to grow as more out of school children are identified in the Paynesville, Liberia community.

Long Term Goal: September 2017 – September 2022

Our 5 year plan is to build a tuition free primary school named LEAP of Faith Primary School that will be administered by volunteers from around the globe. We have since identified a suitable location and have an engineering team to work with on this project. The estimated cost of building LEAP of Faith is $110,000 USD.

Get Involved!

By giving as little as €450 (1 child for 3 years education) to as much €6,000 (5 children for the full 8 years scholarship) or more, you can give the gift of education and change the life of a Liberian child. Our Finance Team can work out a gift plan that fits your preference, contact us below for more information! 

- Walker S. Mahn Jr.

Walker S. Mahn is the Programme Director and founder of Leap Tutoring, a participant of the first edition of Blackstone LaunchPad's Sprints programme at Trinity College Dublin. To find out more about LEAP Tutoring please e-mail the LEAP team at: liberiaeducationassistanceprog@gmail.com

“I know that we cannot change the world, but we can provide the most powerful weapon used to change the world: Education.” – Walker S. Mahn, Jr. (Founder/Programme Director)