Focusing on the Future

(Speech delivered by George Ninneh Flahn)

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 17, 2002

Editor's Note: Over the Memorial Day of 2002, the Grand Gedeh Association in the Americas held its Tenth Annual Convention in Upper Darby, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Below is the full text of the Keynote Address delivered by Dr. George Ninneh Flahn, the Guest Speaker for the occasion:

Mr. President and Officers of the Grand Gedeh Association in the Americas, Elders and Members of the Board, the Chairman and Members of the Convention 2002 Committee, Distinguished Guests, Fellow Grand Gedeans and Fellow Liberians, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I want to thank the Convention 2002 Committee for selecting me to be the Keynote speaker for this Convention. It is an honor and a privilege for me to be here.

I bring you greetings from your brothers and sisters, the Grand Gedeh Diaspora in the United Kingdom and Europe. I bring you special greetings also, from the officers and members of the newly formed Grand Gedeh Association in the United Kingdom. Yes, Mr. President, upon the receipt of your letter to Grand Gedeans in Europe in January 2002, asking us to join with your association and contribute towards the re-building of our county, a group of Grand Gedeans living in the United Kingdom met on the 4th of March 2002 and the Grand Gedeh Association in the Unite Kingdom was borne.

Yours truly was elected the first Chairman, Miss Shirley Kaydea, Secretary, Miss Sarah Rue, Treasurer, and Miss Jehmu Zulu, Researcher. Some prominent members of our association include, Mr. Amos Bohn, former Superintendent of Margibi County, Mrs. Anna Kaydea, Mr. and Mrs. T. Gaye Zulu, to name a few.

My association wants me to assure you that we stand united with you in helping to rebuild Grand Gedeh County. Each member of our association will contribute to the Grand Gedeh County Reconstruction Fund established by you. Your treasurer will be hearing from our treasurer shortly. We hope that eventually, the Grand Gedeh Association will extend throughout Europe.

Mr. Chairman and members of the Convention 2002 Committee, in keeping with the theme of the convention, which is “Deh-Dele, Zohn Cheh”, translated in English as “A New Beginning for a Better Tomorrow,” the title of my speech is “FOCUSING ON THE FUTURE.”

We all know that the civil war has destroyed our county and country. Our people, the Grand Gedeans, continue to be gravely affected, whether at home or in refugee camps across West Africa. Our proud nation has been reduced to a desolate people depending on handouts. This cannot continue indefinitely, and I believe we the Grand Gedeans in the Americas and Europe, the lucky ones, have a significant role to play in bringing about a change for our people. As we become involved with the hustle and bustle of day to day living in these countries, it is easy to forget who we are and we need avenues like this convention to remind us of who we are, where we have come from and why we are here.

Never forget where you come form. We can change our names, we can change our nationalities, but we cannot change our place of birth. That is our link to our heritage. I have a British Passport, but my place of birth, which is Zwedru, is written in that passport. My wife was borne in Paisley, Scotland, and my children were borne in Stourbridge, England. When we travel together, an immigration officer can easily tell that my place of birth is a little strange and different from the rest of my family. He would then ask me “…. Where is Zwedru?” To which I will reply, “Zwedru is in Liberia, West Africa.”

About two years ago while traveling from Amsterdam I told my wife if any immigration office ask me again about where Zwedru was “ I will cook their soup.” She was completely confused, and asked what I meant. I said, “Wait and see.” As luck would have it, we met a young English immigration officer who did not disappoint me and proceeded to ask me,”…where is Zwedru?” And I said, “Zwedru is in Scotland, in the Highlands.” He said, “Really?” “Yes,” I said, because I knew most English people know very little about Scotland. Of course, my wife told him that I was just kidding.

So you see my friends, our place of birth is one of those things that will remain with us until we die. We therefore owe it to ourselves to invest in its development and prosperity. Never forget the place of your birth.

Here, we can learn from the Jews. The Diaspora began with the Jews since they were the first group of people to be displaced by war on a large scale. But no matter what country the Jews found themselves, they were first and foremost Jews, and their adoptive countries were secondary. Hence the names…. Jewish Americans, Russian Jews, English Jews, etc. Every Jew, whether born in Israel or outside of Israel, always aspires to return to the motherland. I believe we have to have the same frame of mind in order for us to make a meaningful contribution towards the development of our county and country. The only distinction I would like to make from the Jews is that we have to learn to live in peace with our neighbors, something that has eluded the Jews for many years.

As we focus on the future of our county and country, let me remind you that the development and rebuilding of our county will depend on us. We cannot expect outsiders to do it for us. As we look around the world today, there are conflicts in every corner of the world, from Asia to Eastern Europe, from Central America to South America, and of course, across the whole of the African continent. The International Community is busy frying bigger fish, like combating International Terrorism, and dealing with International refugees. Since the end of the cold war, we no longer occupy a strategic position; therefore our interest is not high on Uncle Sam’s list.

I believe that the time has come for us to engage ourselves in a new process of nation building, not from the narrow perspective of sectionalism, but through a broader approach which focuses internally on civil society, and externally on creating or strengthening regional mechanisms. It is not charity that our people need but rather our solidarity. Solidarity is not just a moral value. It is often said that good leaders are visionary. Vision, in my opinion, also means to realize that solidarity brings stability, and that only through stability we will achieve prosperity.

Let me share a story with you that has an American flavor and which I believe we can all identify with:

On Thanksgiving Day many years ago, a young family awoke with a sense of foreboding. Instead of looking forward to a day filled with gratitude, they were preoccupied with thoughts of what they did not have. At best they would scrape together a meager meal on this day of “feasting”. If they had contacted a local charity group, they would have had a turkey with all the trimmings, but they didn’t. Why? Because they, like many other families, were proud people. Somehow they would make do with what they had.

The difficult situation led to frustration and hopelessness, then to irreparable, harsh words between the mother and father. The eldest son felt devastated and helpless as he watched the people he loved most become more and more angry and depressed.

Then destiny intervened… a loud and unexpected knock at the door! The boy opened it and was greeted by a tall man in rumpled clothing. He was grinning broadly, carrying a huge basket brimming with every conceivable Thanksgiving delight: a turkey, stuffing, pies, sweet potatoes, and canned foods-everything for a holiday feast.

The family was stunned. The man at the door said, “This is from someone who knows you’re in need and wants you to know you’re loved and cared for”. At first the father of the family did not want to take the basket, but the man said, “Look, I’m just a delivery person.” Smiling, he set the basket in the boy’s arms, turned to leave, then called over his shoulder, “Have a great Thanksgiving!”

In that moment, this young man’s life was forever changed. With this simple act of kindness, he learned that hope is eternal, and that people, even “strangers” really do care. The sense of gratitude he felt moved him deeply, and he swore to himself that some day he’d do well enough to give something back to others in a similar way. And by the time he was eighteen years old, he had begun to fulfill that promise. With his scant earnings, he set out to purchase groceries, not for himself, but for two families he had learned were in dire need of food. He then drove to deliver the groceries, dressed in an old pair of jeans and T-shirt, intending to present the gift as if he were a delivery boy. When he arrived at the first dilapidated house, a Latino woman who looked at him suspiciously greeted him. She had six children, and her husband had abandoned the family only a few days before. They had no food.

The young man offered,” I have a delivery for you, ma’am.” He then went out to his car and began to carry in bags and boxes overflowing with food: a turkey, stuffing, pies, sweet potatoes, and canned foods. The woman’s jaw dropped. The children, when they saw the food being brought into the house, let out shrieks of delight. The young mother, who spoke only broken English, grabbed the young man by the arm and started kissing him all over, saying, “You gift from God! You gift from God!

“No, no” the young man said. “ I’m just the delivery boy. This is a gift from a fried.” Then he handed her a note that said, “This is a note from a friend. Please have a wonderful Thanksgiving; you and your family deserve it. Know that you are loved. And someday, if you have the chance, please do well enough to do this for someone else and pass on the gift.”

How many of us cannot remember a time when we did not have food, no money to pay school fees or buy books and uniforms, until someone came to our aide – maybe an uncle, an aunt or other relatives, a teacher, a Peace Corps volunteer, a missionary, maybe a God Pa or God Ma, or even a stranger helped us along the way.

When I think of the young people of Grand Gedeh County who are eager to learn but have no money to pay school fees or buy books, or even find food to eat, I see in them future doctors, lawyers, university lecturers, future political leaders, all waiting for help to develop their full potentials. I believe we can make a difference in their lives, just how someone made a difference in our lives to help us get to where we are today.

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, I believe the Grand Gedeh Association in the Americas is well placed to bring about a meaningful change in the lives of our people. I sincerely hope that all Grand Gedeans will heed the call and contribute to the Grand Gedeh County Reconstruction Fund, and help to make a difference for our people and pass on the gift.

Let me close by leaving you with an inspirational verse, which has inspired me through the years:

“I may pass this way but once. Any good therefore that I can do, let me do it now. For I may not pass this way again.”

Thank you very much for listening. May God bless Grand Gedeh County and Liberia.

About the Speaker: Dr. Flahn is a Staff Surgeon at Russells Hall Hospital in Dudley, the United Kingdom, and a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. He is the current Chairman of the Grand Gedeh Association of the United Kingdom

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