I want to tell you about three stories converging.
Story #1: In 1982 I graduated from Bonn American High School, aka The American School on the Rhein, in the capital city of what was then West Germany. During my four years in Bonn, my family met and became friends with the Liberian Ambassador and his wife, Dr. Zamba and Doris Liberty. When I graduated, the Libertys gave me a beautiful, hand-embroidered traditional Liberian shirt called a dashiki. To this day, the shirt is a treasured reminder not only of my time in Germany, but our friends and their West African nation.
Story #2: In 2008 I had the privilege of spending ten days in Liberia to work with pastors, a school, and a clinic. Just four years removed from a brutal and bloody civil war that had lasted roughly fourteen years, the nation was a wreck: 85% unemployment, hundreds of thousands of Internally Displaced Persons, and even in Monrovia, the capital, only about 15% of the city had electricity or running water. At the school we were working with, I talked with one of the teachers about the challenges of educating students in that environment.
Story #3: You know the word: ebola. An epidemic that claimed thousands of lives in western Africa and struck fear into the hearts of America when aid workers who had become infected were brought to the US for treatment. But ebola did more than simply kill individuals; it also killed economies—like the struggling one in Liberia.
Convergence: Enter Chidegar Liberty, better known as Chid. He is the son of Dr. and Mrs. Liberty, who gave me the dashiki more than thirty years ago. Chid grew up in the U.S. but since traveling back to Liberia for the first time in 2009, has had a passion and a vision for the people of his homeland. He started a women’s sewing center to train and employ the women of Liberia, making high quality clothing for international distribution. But the ebola crisis shut down the factory and sent its employees back home with no income and little hope. But Chid, a hero if there ever was one, is back at it, with a vision bigger and grander than before. Now he not only wants to employ and train women, but also put school uniforms on kids so they can get an education. Simply called #UNIFORM, the dream is simple: make the world’s softest t-shirt, sell it around the world, and for every shirt sold, give a school uniform to a Liberian child.
So far, more than 1,000 supporters have backed a crowd funding campaign, committing more than $200,000—enough to put uniforms on more than 8,000 kids. As I write, the campaign is in its final 40 hours.
What started for me as a gift shirt in 1982 is now coming full circle, as my support will put shirts on the backs of Liberian students so they, too, will be able to attend—and graduate from—high school. Who knows; maybe one of those students will grow up to be an ambassador to Germany and give a shirt to another young person.