“I’m living proof that through education we can realize our dreams, even through the worst situations.”
– Veronica Fynn, at last week’s 60 million Girls annual conference.
We wanted to share some highlights of Veronica’s captivating and inspiring story, which began three decades ago in Liberia. Veronica’s mother, unhappily married and already with three children, tried to abort her fourth pregnancy with a concoction of boiled and ground leaves, rocks and glass bottles. But as she was about to drink, the bowl fell from her hand. She felt this was a sign that she should have this baby and see what was going to happen. That baby was Veronica.
Six months later, Veronica’s mother divorced her father, and life became even more difficult. Veronica would wake up at 2:00 in the morning to help her mother make pastries, which she would then sell to have enough money to go to school. Her mother remarried and had four more children, whom Veronica helped to raise. She often wondered why her mother had to raise eight children, why she didn’t have time to play with her friends. The only answer her mother gave her was, “Education is the way to destroy a painful past.”
“The war took everything away,” Veronica says. “We were attacked by the rebels forced to leave our home, and had to run for their lives.” When her mother told Veronica and her siblings to pack their belongings and go, Veronica took her chemistry book. Such was her love for school.
“It was a very painful time,” Veronica explains. “War has never, ever solved any problem in our society. I don’t know why we ever resort to violence and think that solves the problem. It causes incalculable harm, and we don’t even know the repercussions it has on unborn generations.
Liberia has lost a whole generation to child soldiers. That’s what war does to a country.”
Her family was displaced for a year, but even after they returned home and the peacekeepers arrived, there was no peace. Veronica was frequently abused by people who took advantage of her vulnerability. Her family escaped Liberia to Ghana on a peacekeeping ship, and after they arrived at the refugee camp, her mother contracted tuberculosis. The family lived on garri for one year, which has no nutritional content. Finally, Veronica’s mother decided she’d rather return to Liberia than die in Ghana where she’d have no grave. But by then, Veronica was finishing her O levels. She told her mother she’d decided to stay in Ghana.
“If I go back,” she said “Nobody in this family will change our history of poverty.”
It would be 13 years before she saw her mother and siblings again.
Because she wanted to go to school, Veronica had to rely on others, and once again became a victim of abuse, by the man who was supposed to be her guardian. The abuse went on for nine years, and Veronica attempted suicide twice. As she was finishing her university degree, a friend introduced her to WUSC. One year later, with 2 suitcases and $20 in her pocket, Veronica arrived in Canada.
“And the rest was history,” she explains. “We can use [education] for the betterment of society, but many people would never dream of this opportunity.”
For the next 4 years, Veronica and her sister, who was now married and living in California, worked to bring the rest of the family to the US. Veronica took two jobs, working close to fifty-five hours a week in addition to being in university full time. Eventually she realized she wanted to work to change policies on refugee issues. That’s when she decided to study law at York University.
Veronica has since started her own company, doing systematic research in Liberia to find out what’s needed to form effective laws and policies. She returned to Liberia for the first time in eighteen years in 2010, and then again this past October. While dealing with the nightmares and retraumatization of returning home, she also taught free courses in the public health school at the university. She also visited the refugee camp in Ghana, which, she says, hasn’t improved much since she left.
“They put so much focus on health at the refugee camps,” she explains, “and none on education. These people will go back home one day, and need education to sustain themselves. Food and water are good; education is better. Many Liberians still living as refugees in Ghana arrived 20 years ago and still haven’t been to school.”
Veronica believes that, because women are so close to children, they pass on more of their knowledge to their community, than do boys and men. She said,
“There’s a saying, that when you education a man, you educate an individual. When you educate a girl, you educate a nation.
I think my life is an emblem of that.”