November 8th, 2019
Liberian Learning Center
Empowerment Squared, a Canadian-based charity founded by Liberian refugee Leo Nupolu Johnson, is leading the charge on building a first in his country, a state-of-the-art, multi-purpose educational facility, The Liberian Learning Center. Following a recent ground breaking ceremony in Liberia, the charity announced project updates including a $100,000 donation and Hamilton Public Library CEO Paul Takala revealed the new library is going to be an official sister library of the HPL.
The primary goal of the project is to empower citizens in a country with one of the lowest literacy rates in the world (47.6%). By providing relevant literacy and skills-based education, Johnson believes livelihoods for youth will improve.
Johnson fled war-torn Liberia in 1998 at age 15, leaving his home city Paynesville, where the center will now be built. He spent eight years in refugee camps between the Ivory Coast and Ghana. He arrived in Canada in 2006, settling in Hamilton, Ontario, where he lives today.
“I was separated from my family during the war. I arrived in Canada alone, in an unfamiliar place. I decided I could either carry on with a victim mentality – or I could be a champion of possibilities. I grew up reading by streetlight and when I returned to visit in 2011, I saw that it was still the same case for many. More than ever, I saw the need to create a space where Liberians, especially students, can have access to quality educational materials. I’m thankful I’m in a position to help,” said Johnson.
Johnson graduated from McMaster University with a degree in political science in 2011. While there he founded Empowerment Squared, a charitable organization that promotes access to education, lifelong learning and ground-breaking projects. The Liberian Learning Center is a direct response to some of the country’s most significant needs: educational infrastructure and resources.
The Liberian Learning Center is a collaborative project led by Empowerment Squared, in partnership with Rotary International, Rotary Club of Hamilton, Rotary Club of Monrovia, Paynesville City Corporation, mcCallumSather and Hamilton Public Library. The international team are working together to bring a range of expertise to create a cornerstone for the Paynesville community, a legacy project that inspires and supports the development of Liberia. The Liberian Learning Center will be the first building built as part of a three-phase master plan and will include a library, co-working and business incubation spaces. Future phases include sports and recreation facilities, and event facilities.
Architects, designers and mechanical engineers at Canadian design firm mcCallumSather are leading an international integrated team in its design and construction. The firm is working closely with local consultants in Liberia to complete the project.
At all points of the design, sustainable design principals have been incorporated. The building form is intentionally sculpted by the sun, wind and rain. The sloped roof forms a large, south-facing armature which harvests solar energy and rainwater. Passive system solutions reduce energy usage and build inherent resilience to unreliable power, sanitary and clean water infrastructures. It is important the Liberian Learning Centre has an enduring connection to its community, with opportunity for the use of local labour and materials, not only in the construction but throughout the building’s life.
The ceremonial ground-breaking took place in Paynesville, Liberia last month. It was attended by Her Excellency Chief Dr. Jewel Howard Taylor – Vice President, Republic of Liberia, Pam Belcher-Taylor – Mayor, City of Paynesville, Wilson Idahor – President, Rotary Club of Monrovia, Paul Takala – CEO, Hamilton Public Library, Mark John Stewart – Executive Advisor to Empowerment Squared, many other dignitaries, and hundreds of supporters and community members.
“We have been supporters of Empowerment Squared and the Liberian Learning Center since meeting Leo eight years ago. It’s inspiring for us to work on this space, designed around the core principles of safety, sustainability and connection. The project aims to use locally sourced craftsmen and materials to ensure the Center has an enduring connection to its community, providing ongoing opportunities for maintenance and employment,” said Christina Karney, Associate at mcCallumSather.
The project aims to raise $2 million. To learn more and donate to the project visit: https://empowermentsquared.org/how-you-can-help/donate/