Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf addresses a gathering at the Albany Museum of Art Monday night where she stressed the deep connection between her country and the United States. (Staff Photo: Terry Lewis)
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at the Albany Museum of Art
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf addresses a gathering at the Albany Museum of Art Monday night where she stressed the deep connection between her country and the United States and recounted her nation's history. The event was a fundraiser for HEARTT (Health Education and Relief Through Teaching), which was founded for the purpose of assisting underdeveloped communities by developing fully-functioning, sustainable health care systems; providing health care relief, and organizing educational services.
ALBANY — Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is proud of her country and her family, and she was in town Monday to promote both. Speaking before a packed fundraising even at the Albany Museum of Art, Sirleaf brought up the close connection between the United States and Liberia, a country colonized by freed slaves.
Mobile users go here to see the video of President Sirleaf's appearance Monday night at the AMA.
“Liberia was born with the quest for freedom,” Sirleaf said. “Freedom by many who were in this country and who had been freed and saw a home for that in the historical connection between Liberia and the United States, the Southern United States in particular. Our flag, our constitution, our national symbols, our culture are all part of the American connection.
In the 1820s, Liberia began to be colonized by freed American slaves and in 1847 the Republic of Liberia came into being. The new nation developed a deep bond with America. However the path to freedom was not smooth.
“Our country was filled over the years since its founding to provide a place for refuge not so unlike your own country,” she said. “We prospered, but we made some mistakes; mistakes that cost us dearly in not being able to recognize that Liberia was indeed an African country with a population that was already there. And so the assimilation that brought together the national unity that was so much needed did not happen as it should have.
“And so over the years that cleavage that was was not bridged ultimately led to the coup d’état and 14 years of civil war.”
In 2005, after more than a decade of civil war and strife, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected the first woman president of an African country. In 2011, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, jointly with fellow Liberian Leymah Gbowee and Tawakekel Karmen of Yemen, who were recognized for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights. She was re-elected to a second term as president.
The wars devastated the country and practically destroyed Liberia’s health care system. Sirleaf’s son, Dr. James Sirleaf, the interim medical director of the emergency department at Phoebe Putney Memorial hospital, saw the need and established HEARTT (Health Education and Relief Through Teaching.)
HEARTT was founded for the purpose of assisting underdeveloped communities by developing fully-functioning, sustainable health care systems; providing health care relief, and organizing educational services.
Dr. Sirleaf has made several trips to the John F. Kennedy Medical Center in the Liberian capital of Monrovia, which is the focus of HEARTT’s current mission.
“James was a son of the soil. He had to do it; he had to go back,” the president said.
Monday’s fundraiser at the museum was a start, but the younger Sirleaf is still seeking funds, medicines and physicians who are willing to work for a few weeks in-country to help rebuild a shattered people.
“I want to thank all of you in this room,” the president said. “You have joined an initiative that has reached across an ocean. Liberia, in many ways, is your connection to the continent. If we succeed, you succeed.”