Here is a short version of Isaac Monah’s story:
There was no local school for him. He left home three times to be educated in different parts of Liberia, and was in the sixth grade at age 18. At 12, he voluntarily dropped out of school in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, and returned to Grand Gedeh County because he believed his presence was putting too much of an economic strain on his uncle’s family.
After being forced to leave Liberia at the age of 19, early in a civil war that lasted from 1989 to 2003, Isaac got jobs in Ivory Coast, studying deer and later tracking monkeys. He finally managed to graduate from high school in Ghana at age 27. He came to the United States with the help of Scott McGraw, an Ohio State anthropology professor who worked with Isaac on several research projects in Africa.
In July 2007, Isaac was finally able to return to Liberia and visit his home village, and found that the children of Grand Gedeh face the same situation he faced in the 1980s. He believes that education is the key to opportunity for those children and prosperity for the region. He gathered a group of people who share his dream and his determination. On Nov. 30, 2012, the first classes were held at the Dougbe River Presbyterian School in Twarbo Region, Konobo District, Grand Gedeh County, Liberia.
The Dougbe River School was launched as a mission of Noble Road Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, where Isaac is an elder. In 2011 it was officially adopted as a mission of the Cleveland-based Presbytery of the Western Reserve. Thirty worship communities and four schools have contributed to the project.
In its second academic year, the school has 130 students – 69 girls and 61 boys – from “A-B-C” early education classes through the seventh grade. Additional grades will be added as students progress. A staff of seven teachers from various parts of Liberia is led by principal Bob Nueita, a graduate of the University of Liberia who relocated from the town on Gbarnga, about 200 miles away, to take the job. This summer and fall, the people of Twarbo built simple houses on campus for the teachers.
The campus is on 150 acres of land donated to it by local leaders. The parcel straddles the border between the villages of Sayuo and Buway. Eventually, a Local Board with representatives from each of the 12 towns in the area will handle day-to-day operations of the school. Isaac named the school after the river because it belongs to all of the people in that region – not just one town – and he wanted them to understand that the school does, too.
Now a U.S. citizen, Isaac lives in South Euclid, Ohio, an inner-ring suburb of Cleveland, with his wife, Mazo, and sons Tom, Scott and Matthew. Tom, who attended school through the eighth grade at a refugee camp in Ghana, graduated from Brush High School in Lyndhurst, Ohio and now attends Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio.