Thanks to the mill, Mr Dolo has been able to abandon the back-breaking, time-consuming traditional method of crushing palm oil kernels and is on the way to building a successful business making soap and palm oil.
“Why ‘Freedom Mill’? Because it’s freed them from hard, inefficient labour; the press is 10 times more productive than the traditional method,” said World ORT Chief Program Officer Vladimir Dribinskiy, who recently visited Africa with the Head of the organisation’s International Cooperation Advisory Standing Committee, David Woolf, to see the ORT Liberia Literacy and Training for Employment Program (LTEP) in operation.
Thanks to LTEP, which this week entered the second year of Phase II of its operations thanks to funding from George Soros’s Open Society Foundations and the partnership of USAID, Mr Dolo learned how to use the machine and he is now passing on his skills to seven young trainees. Together they extract the palm oil manually to make high quality soap, which is selling well. Not only that, the residue from the crushed kernels is used as feed in the piggery which Mr Dolo has set up – and the pigs’ waste is used as fertilizer for the agricultural part of the business.
“Business is booming,” Mr Dolo said. “Now I want another machine to extract the oil so that we can increase soap production. And one day I will buy a pick-up truck to help the business grow.”
His vision has been given focus by his ORT training.
“It was not just about production; it was also about how to sell, how to do accounts, and how to promote the product,” Mr Dribinskiy said.
Mr Dolo is just one of more than 4,500 people – more than half of them women – who have been helped by LTEP. The program, which has enjoyed increasing support from the Open Society Foundations since it started in 2010, generates sustainable livelihoods for people aged 17 to 35 who are benefitting from the Ministry of Education’s Alternative Basic Education curriculum or the accelerated learning programmes for war-affected youth that were implemented by the USAID-funded Core Education Skills for Liberia’s Youth (CESLY) project.
It has three key components: in-school vocational training delivered by Master Trainers; out-of-school, non-formal vocational training in which CESLY graduates are placed in small, local businesses as apprentices; and small grants to upgrade training sites and Grassroots Business Management Training.
By the end of Phase II, scheduled for April 2014, World ORT expects it to have delivered some 5 million training hours to more than 10,000 youths in about 150 remote communities and to have increased incomes for 85 per cent of them so that all will be earning above the poverty line. For an investment of less than $3 million, some 54,000 people will benefit directly and indirectly in a country where unemployment has reached 85 per cent and 80 per cent of the population live below the poverty line.
“In Liberia World ORT’s slogan, ‘Educating for Life’, can be seen at its most essential: the assistance we provide there is not only life-changing it can be life-saving because without it these people would be struggling to subsist,” Mr Dribinskiy said.
And it is just what Africa needs: Ghana President John Mahama told a business summit in London this week that future investment in the continent should focus on people and jobs. Building human capital would determine “whether we sustain the growth we are seeing” thanks to the commodities boom from which Liberia, too, has benefited.
President Mahama would no doubt be happy to learn that master trainers from his country plan to come to Liberia to help others already there from Morocco build the capacity of ORT’s local staff and that of local artisans as trainers as LTEP expands the vocational skills menu beyond such traditional areas as carpentry, soap making, tailoring and hair styling to offer new or rare options, including food preservation, solar cooking, new types of metalwork, recycling, and developing alternative protein sources for improved income and nutrition, such as the raising of giant African land snails. In addition, small grants are given to improve training sites such as a new metal roof to replace the thatch on a mud-brick tailor shop to keep trainees dry during the intense rainy season.
Beyond the material help and benefits, the ORT program will instil a new sense of entrepreneurship among its beneficiaries, said Celeste Angus, Director of World ORT’s International Cooperation bureau in Washington DC.
“We expect LTEP to promote a culture of innovation,” she said, “not only by testing and introducing new ideas but by offering Liberians the opportunity to test and experiment, to try and sometimes fail, to make adjustments, to try again and so acquire both the conceptual skills needed for creative thinking and the technical skills needed to translate new ideas into successful income-producing activities.”