The centre cost USD 46,000 and it represents a significant victory for communities affected by logging operations. It is one of the first projects to be paid for by a National Benefit Sharing Trust set up after civil society groups used the VPA process to urge the government to pay communities a share of logging fees they were owed.
As a result, the government has now paid USD 1.6 million into the trust. The fund’s board redistributes money allocated to communities after reviewing and approving proposals from the Community Forest Development Committees.
Weah says the youth training centre in Yarpah Town “was built through an inclusive process that brought women, youth, elders, other members of the communities, even the community leaders to make a decision on how to use the funds.” From the start, there was no shortage of ideas. Some people proposed hand pumps, others a community bus or a new clinic. In the end, the community voted overwhelmingly for the youth centre.
Over the next 10 years, says Weah, the project aims to ensure that when people need workers with skills like construction or masonry, they will not have to look elsewhere but can employ the community’s own youth. “It’s also going to increase income in that community and improve the lives of the people,” she says.
Matthias Yeanay, the head of the NGO coalition of Liberia, and chair of the trust fund’s board, says the project will empower the young people to become professionals rather than living ‘hand-to-mouth’ as motorbike riders or in other casual roles. “The youth centre is important in that it trains the young people and prepares them for the job market,” he says, adding that this means the youth will “be part of the development of Liberia.”
Yeanay notes an important transformation that led to this point. “The key thing here is that women were the ones who suggested the project,” he says. “They said, ‘we want our young boys and girls to come here and learn’.” This marked a shift, with women not only participating in meetings like never before but also having their proposal accepted over alternatives proposed by men.
“Liberia is not a country where you have women talking about forestry issues, talking about land issues,” says Weah. But the support, information and encouragement her organisation provided had motivated these women to take part. “It has taken them to the point where they are now making decisions on what happens in the communities,” says Weah. “The women are feeling very, very motivated at being the ones to propose an idea that is being captured by the entire community.”
Across Liberia, other communities have also seen their proposals to build clinics, schools and roads funded. All of this has been made possible by the VPA between Liberia and the EU, which aims to address illegal logging and promote trade in legal timber products through the implementation of a nationwide timber legality assurance system and other reforms.