I am Eric Willise Wowoh, a former Liberian refugee, but now a permanent resident of the United States living in Dallas, Texas. I am a native of Fissibu, Zorzor District, Lofa County, in northern Liberia. When I was two years old, my parents relocated our family to Bong Mines in Lower Bong County, Liberia. We lived in Bong Mines until the brutal civil war started and separated our entire family. We were separated for about 20 years and the lives of many were destroyed.
I am humbled to be the Founder and International Director of Change Agent Network, a Christ-centered non-profit organization currently operating across the world.
During my childhood days before the civil war started in Liberia, I lived with my parents. We were very, very poor. I had no childhood joy or happiness. My parents were African Traditionalists, they believed in African Religion. We had only one meal a day. As children, we had to help our parents work on the farm to provide food for the family. My parents did not send me to school at all. I had to sell bread in boxes carrying it on my head in the streets to pay for my own school fees as a child. Looking back today in retrospect with all that I know today, I realized our lives were very peaceful although we live in abject poverty with no hope and opportunity.
Our lives remained peaceful and everybody living together as family until 1989 when the Liberian Civil War started. During the course of the war, I went out one day on a two-day fishing trip with three other childhood friends of mine to help provide food for my siblings and parents at home. Not having a birth certificate I would guess that I was around the age of 12 years. We walked for four hours one way to the river. Upon my return from the fishing trip, I was captured by rebel fighters, beaten, tortured to be turned into a child soldier. I was saved miraculously by the grace of God, and left the country around the age of 12 with broken arms. I was kept in prison with severe pains and starvation to death for two days with no parents or anyone around to help. I left my country (Liberia) and became an international refugee in exile where I lived in over 12 different refugee camps in 12 nations throughout West Africa. I struggled as a refugee, a survivor of torture and violence for 14 unbroken years.
THE MISERY OF MY BIRTHDAY
I am not quite sure of my date of birth because I was born in a very remote and primitive village without medical facilities. My parents were not educated enough to document when I was born. I was a child when I became a refugee and escaped to the neighboring country of Ivory Coast. I was constantly asked about my date of birth and was embarrassed that I did not know what to say. After prayer, I selected August 22, 1974 as my official birthday. But all of that doesn’t matter now, the most important thing is that I am here and all is well by His grace!
When I was a refugee in Nigeria, West Africa, a friend of mine gave me one single desktop computer. With the help of another refugee, I learned how to use that computer and started training other refugees from all over the continent of Africa how to use a computer. Within 3 years, we built two computer schools on the refugee camp and trained over 700 refugees. Looking back to today 13 years later, I am even more grateful and humbled for that one single computer that added meaning to my life and helped give my life direction. Out of that one computer, by the grace of God, I have been able to build Change Agent Network, an international nonprofit organization that I am leading across the world today.
Many of our graduates are upstanding citizens who are meaningfully contributing to our world in various countries, such as Mr. Jerelimic Piah, the current Presidential Press Secretary to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
In 2006, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, in collaboration with the Justice Development and Peace Commission of Nigeria, assumed the administration and funding of the Computer Training Center. Their recognition of the accomplishments of Change Agent Network and commitment to continue and expand the work after my departure was a huge affirmation of our efforts.
EXTENSION OF MY VISION AND MISSION TO LIBERIA
Shortly after the first Liberian civil war ended in 2005 , I began developing a burning desire to get involved in finding solutions to the problems facing my post-war nation. I knew I could provide free computer skills to struggling young people, most of whom were former child soldiers, orphans or displaced and neglected children who had never experienced peace in their young lives and had no hope for the future. Continue reading below:
ERIC WOWOH RECEIVES RARE GEMS AWARD FROM THE WOMEN'S OPTIMUM DEVELOPMENT FOUNDATION, LAGOS NIGERIA.
In 2006, I received the RARE GEMS AWARD from the Women’s Optimum Development Foundation for my contributions to humanity, service to women and children. I was honored in commemoration of International Women’s Day 2006.
With strong support from my friend and Christian Brother Mr. Desmond and other concerned individuals and organizations in Nigeria, I decided to return to Liberia. I persuaded six young Liberians who shared my passion and vision to return voluntarily to Liberia with me to continue with our work there.
The five individuals were: Kollie T. Jallah (Male) George A. Thomas (Male) Momo V. Ware (Male) Cherub Anderson (Male) Jamel Ishaka Turay (Male) and Redeemed Ramatu Freeman (Female)
These people were our first leadership team members (all Liberians) who went back home right after the civil war and committed their lives to providing free computer training to Liberians, using the model we had developed in the refugee camp in Nigeria.
We were excited about the opportunity to share our computer skills, knowledge, exposure and education we had acquired in exile with our fellow Liberians whose lives had been badly damaged and our country in total chaos. The real purpose of our involvement with young people in a post-war situation was to help them grow up to become useful and industrious citizens of Liberia and of Africa. We believed this was our small contribution to the rebuilding process of a destroyed nation and lost generations.
We aggressively launched the program in Liberia with the purchase of one acre of land in the City View, Lower Johnsonville community and constructed our first computer training center. Our memories of hacking out the jungle and driving out monkeys and snakes make us laugh today.
Fast forward twelve years (2003-2014): radical selflessness and an unswerving commitment to fulfilling a God-given passion and vision for the next generation have turned that original single computer into an organization that is impacting thousands of lives across the world, developing Liberia and giving hope to the next generation.
Today, by the grace of God, Change Agent Network provides a low school fees payment system for underserved children and computer training in under-resources communities all over of Liberia. Our programs encompass nursery, elementary and high school as well as university:
- The Building of the Change Agent Network University CAN-U
- Adult Literacy Program
- New Breed School of Leadership and entrepreneurship
- Youth Development and capacity building Program
- Christian Values and Life-Styles Educational Program
- Arts and Culture
- Sports Program
- Tailoring Program
- Women Development and Livelihood Agriculture Program
- Human Rights and Peace-Building Program
- HiV/Aids Education and Awareness Program
- The Real Roofs Housing Program (Free Housing Units for low-income and homeless families)
- Travel to Impact Liberia
MY RESETTLEMENT TO AMERICA
In 2006, through the grace of God, I was given the opportunity to come to America through a refugee re-settlement program. This wonderful opportunity was given to me by the United States Government in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, International Organization for Migration and the Migration & Refugee Services of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of America.
I arrived in the US on August 29, 2006 with no luggage, no passport, no ID, no phone, no money, no email address or Twitter or Facebook account, no home address and no friends or acquaintances; not even knowing how to use an ATM Machine. My entire world changed in 24 hours. It was like an adventure to a foreign planet, all alone and with no backup plan. A total culture shock!
I arrived in Lafayette, Louisiana with a heavy burden on my heart and a passion to continue the work I had started in the refugee camp in Nigeria to bring real hope to a desperate generation of Africans. I had a special burden for the refugees I had left behind in the camp and for the helpless children of Liberia who were victims of circumstances beyond their control. After my arrival in the US, I had one major question to ask myself every day: now that I am here in the most powerful, richest and advanced nation of the world, what am I going to do to help even more people back home in Africa? I said to myself, “Eric, you were able to accomplish all of these wonderful things with just one computer. In spite of huge challenges in the refugee camp, the vision did not die. Will you sit back and relax and allow it to die at this time in a country of unbelievable resources and opportunities that can do even more to change the world easily?”
I immediately became more optimistic about the future and the success of Change Agent Network in championing the cause of the next generation. I got my motivation from just observing how every living creature in America have hope, including American pets! In the entire human history of our world, I believe there has never, ever been a nation that is as rich and prosperous as the American people. America is definitely the beacon of hope for the world! Continue reading below:
Eric Wowoh Receives Migration & Refugee Services of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of America Award 201
On November 19, 2015, I was honored with an award from the Migration & Refugee Services (MRS) of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of America. The award was presented to me by His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl Archbishop of Washington DC. This wonderful award was given because my life story which exemplifies the mission of the Catholic Church and Migration and Refugee Services to serve refugees seeking a place of safety and a chance to build a new life in the United States of America.
At first, I was totally confused about where, when and how to continue with my entrepreneurial and humanitarian work in a foreign country. A world that is highly sophisticated, technologically advanced and civilized to the extent that everybody minds their own business. I got really invigorated just within weeks of being here when I realized that there are over 20 food channels on TV; buffets all over the country never run out of food. The birds of the air are being fed every year and the American pets have hospitals, supermarkets, adoption programs, special bakeries and even a government protection agency set up to keep them safe from cruelty. This was a shocking experience for me just arriving from the refugee camp where we spent years with little or no food to eat.
I then decided to start sharing my personal story with the American public and the overwhelming stories of millions of children in Liberia who were dying of hunger and no hope of going to school. The purpose of my story sharing was to get help saving lives of innocent helpless children by providing them some food to eat and school for them to attend.
I never wavered in my promise to help the people I left behind in Africa so I started asking the American people in my neighborhood first to donate what I called: Yesterday’s Treasure, Tomorrow’s Hope. These are used computers and accessories, clothing, shoes, books, household and school supplies that Americans had no real use for anymore to ship to Liberia. I also started asking Americans to donate a little bit of their lunch money to help me build schools and other humanitarian, life-improvement projects to serve the poorest of the poor in Liberia.
To date, I have shipped ten 80,000 pound containers to Liberia and I am currently working on the seventh consignment. By the grace of God, I have built three campuses across Liberia that is educating about 3,000 children encompassing from kindergarten through grade 12th.
THE SUCCESS OF MY STORY
Today, through the grace of God, wisdom, favor and leadership ability He has bestowed upon me to successfully lead this organization. We have successfully built 14 schools on 3 campuses and more campuses under construction in 2 other Liberian counties. Within the past 7 years, Change Agent Network has graduated more than 1,400 students, many of whom have become meaningful contributors to their society. One such student is Jerolimic Piah, the current Liberian Presidential Press Secretary.
Our schools facilities are standardized – well beautified campuses, modern libraries, equipped computer labs, production rooms, electricity, fresh bathrooms, clean and safe running water and comfortable quest houses, etc. It is in these schools that we are helping teachers, students, parents and communities to learn and understand the importance of integrity, hard work, excellence work, volunteerism and of course the connection between our hearts and minds in Christ.