HOUSTON / ATLANTA / MONROVIA

The FTI Female Forest Rangers Platform (FFRP)
Is Gaining Momentum

Dr. Layli Maparyan, HECA Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Lead, with members of the FTI Female Forest Rangers Platform (FFRP) at the FTI waterfall improvement site, April 27, 2024. Photo credit: Layli Maparyan.

By Layli Maparyan, Ph.D.

As a centerpiece of its gender equality and social inclusion portfolio, which aims to involve more women in forestry, biodiversity, and conservation (FBC) in Liberia, Higher Education for Conservation (HECA) is working alongside the up-and-coming Female Forest Rangers Platform (FFRP) at the Forestry Training Institute (FTI) in Liberia. This organization, which formed in 2022, was originally called the Female Foresters Platform, but renamed itself as the Female Forest Rangers Platform in 2024 after Liberia’s Forestry Development Authority (FDA) publicly committed to hiring more female forest rangers in Liberia’s numerous national parks, forests, and reserves. These include Sapo National Park, Gola National Forest, East Nimba Nature Reserve, Krahn-Grebo National Park, and Lake Piso Multiple Use Reserve, in addition to numerous proposed protected areas. On the heels of COP27, forest conservation is now a major policy priority of the Liberian government, requiring a rapid expansion of the forestry workforce that must include women. Led by FDA Project Officer and FTI Instructor Janet Y. Lolemeh, the Female Forest Rangers Platform now boasts over 40 members and is open to any female student at FTI.

The FFRP has adopted a multi-pronged strategy for preparing more women for forestry careers. As a women’s affinity group, the FFRP provides a safe space where women students at FTI can discuss the joys and challenges of being a woman in forestry, which has traditionally been a male-dominated field. To enhance their learning and networking, the FFRP hosts a quarterly speaker series with more senior FBC women role models from government, industry, and the NGO sector. On the technical side, the women of FFRP work together on conservation projects to build up their natural resource management expertise. For example, this year the group launched an initiative to clean up and beautify the FTI waterfall, located within FTI’s teaching forest. The group’s ultimate goal is to make the site tourist-ready, creating a natural attraction and potentially generating revenue for their school. Currently, it is raising funds to build a footbridge at the site. Later this year, the FFRP will host an FBC career fair for girls at local high schools in addition to radio programs to reach the wider community with the FBC message. Last but not least, the FFRP has developed a powerful singing routine that it performs at various venues around the country to attract more women to FBC education and professions. Most recently, the FFRP performed at the HECA Youth Fair. In sum, the FFRP is a force to be reckoned with and represents a future of forestry in Liberia that is gender-equal and committed to both conservation and community empowerment.

HECA Hosts First Forestry, Biodiversity, and Conservation Youth Fair for 500 Urban Students

By Layli Maparyan, Ph.D.

On Thursday, April 25th, 2024, the Higher Education for Conservation (HECA) team hosted a forestry, biodiversity, and conservation (FBC)-themed youth fair for over 500 high school students, including a dozen youth from the disability community, at Paynesville City Hall in Montserrado County. This day-long event included special presentations by the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), including a powerful lineup of FDA Forest Rangers, Eco Guards, Inspectors, and a Technical Manager, plus several conservation NGOs, including Conservation Works (CW), Fauna and Flora, Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection (LCRP), and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Liberia (SCNL). Representatives from the United Nations Development Authority and Liberia’s Community Forest Management Bodies, as well as a highly-awarded environmental journalist, also took the podium. The day’s highlight was a keynote by Catherine Rodriguez, Chargé d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy Monrovia, who offered encouraging remarks about the importance of youth arising to serve Liberia and the world through participation in conservation careers. After her remarks, a delegation of youth representatives from each of the high schools was invited to share the lunch table with the Chargé.

A collage of photos showing highlights of the morning session. Photo credits: Layli Maparyan, Alvin S. Lablah, and Charles B. Weah, II.

The purpose of this day-long event was to stimulate interest in FBC education and careers among Liberia’s urban youth. Youth attendees had the opportunity to hear from and talk with working FBC professionals from a diversity of sectors, as well as to meet with faculty representatives from several of Liberia’s higher education institutions (HEIs) that offer academic programs related to forestry, biodiversity, and conservation. Prominently featured were the Forestry Training Institute (FTI), located in Tubmanburg, Bomi County, Nimba University (NU), located in Sanniquellie, Nimba County, and African Methodist Episcopal University (AMEU), which has recently opened a new campus for agriculture and forestry outside Monrovia. Representatives from the Forestry, Biodiversity, and Conservation (FBC) Center on the University of Liberia (UL) Fendall campus were also in attendance.

Based on attendee response, Liberia’s urban youth are excited about the prospect of joining FBC careers and are eager to learn more information about how to enroll in Liberia’s numerous FBC higher education programs. Youth attendees also articulated the hope of more scholarship funding to make higher education study possible.

Info tables allowed youth attendees to meet and talk with FBC experts from diverse organizations, including FBC higher education programs, after lunch. Photo credits: Layli Maparyan, Alvin S. Lablah, and Charles B. Weah, II.
Local collaborators, including Liberia Innovative Sustainable Initiatives (LISI), based in Sanniquellie, and Global Youth and Children for Christ (GYCCN), based in Paynesville, played a key role in the success of the Youth Fair. Photo credits: Layli Maparyan, Alvin S. Lablah, and Charles B. Weah, II.

Gender equality was a prominent theme of the convening, with strenuous effort by the organizers to ensure that the invited high schools included at least one-third and up to one-half female students in their delegations to the event. Public, private, Christian, and Muslim schools sent delegations, as did several schools for disabled students. Additionally, women in FBC careers were prominently featured on the program, at the podium, and at the information tables, as were female faculty and students from the representative HEIs. The FTI Female Forest Rangers Platform offered a rousing singing performance that conveyed the message that women are welcome in forestry. The FTI Drama Troup also powerfully communicated through a community drama performance that forest dwelling communities and FBC professionals can work together for mutual benefit.  By the end of the day, it was clear to all that FBC higher education and careers are open to all Liberians, and it is now up to Liberia’s institutions – educational, governmental, nongovernmental, and private – to follow up with opportunities and onramps for Liberia’s youth.

Cynthia L. Blandford
President, University Consortium for Liberia (UCL)
+ 1 678-612-2192
cblandford@UCLiberia.com

Val Thompson
Publisher & CEO, International Focus (iF) Magazine
+ 1 (832) 526-3335
val@IFMagazine.net

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