Special Awards In Pictures

MARTINSVILLE–Nathan Penn started working when he was eight years old. The Martinsville native still remembers growing up on Roundabout Road and working as a delivery boy for Wray’s Sandwiches and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts.

He worked hard at his job and later in school, determined to learn as much as he could. Later on, he applied that work ethic to a job in the Peace Corps, traveling across the world. Now he’s in Liberia, helping encourage students there to develop those same traits.
Penn still remembers growing up and attending Albert Harris Elementary School and later Albert Harris High. Sundays were special too him as well, spent at Mount Zion Pentecostal Holy Church. Penn went on to be one of the first African American students to graduate from Martinsville High, under President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Freedom of Choice Act in 1966.
The trailblazer earned credentials as a National Merit Scholar and attended Hampton University, where he majored in mathematics and psychology. After graduation, he took as job as a management consultant for Samuel Harris Ltd. In that role, Penn toured the Midwestern portion of the United States, evaluating federal training programs for entry level workers. But when the contract expired with the federal government, another company won the bid and so Penn started considering other options.
“That’s when I enrolled in a Master of Education in Mathematics program at Texas Southern University,” Penn said. “This was a joint program with the University of Liberia, where I studied African history, politics and cultural environment.”
The joint program came with a two year commitment as a Peace Corps volunteer in Wainsue, Liberia. “During the two years of teaching and living among Liberians of all ages, I came to respect the zeal for life and learning that seemed missing among the masses back home,” Penn said.
In America, Penn said he often heard the phrase, “Free schools and dumb children,” but found the opposite to be true in Liberia. In the African country, children paid to go to school and Penn observed that they were eager to learn.
“That’s why, after two years, I accepted a direct-hire position with the Liberian Ministry of Education to teach at the Liberian National Cultural Center School at Kendejah, Liberia,” Penn said. “I extended the school into a senior high school and taught there until the ‘Rice Riots,’ which preceded the assassination of President [William] Tolbert in 1980.”
The “Rice Riots” as they were called, happened in April 1979 when the Liberian government proposed an increase in the price of rice. The agriculture minister recommended an increase from $22 per 100-pound bag to $26, saying this would encourage farmers to stay on their land and develop rice, rather than looking for jobs in the cities. Opponents however pointed out that the minister, Florence Chenoweth, as well as the president’s family, had large rice farms and would all see their profits increase as a result of the hike.
On April 14, what started as a peaceful protest of 2,000 people in the capital of Monrovia grew into a crowd of more than 12,000, vandalizing local businesses and homes. Military troops were called in to handle the rioters and at the end, 40 civilians were killed, more than 500 were injured and over 100 people were arrested. The damage was placed at $40 million.
With the country at war with itself, Penn decided it was time to come home.

Professor Nathan Penn (left), who is now a Peace Corps Response volunteer at Cuttington University in Suakoko, Liberia, returned to award a scholarship to the junior high school's top graduate. The $300 per year award will enable the recipient, Peterson Flomo, to relocate to Gbarnga where the nearest senior high school is available.
Coming home
Upon returning to the States, Penn accepted employment at his alma mater, Hampton University, where he taught for six years and earned a Master of Science degree in management. He took a job as a computer systems analyst for the U.S. Army in Heidelberg, Germany, and then returned to Martinsville for a position as a regional planner.
In 1996, Penn sought a doctorate in Program Planning and Evaluation at the University of Maryland – Baltimore County. His education helped him land a job as a mathematical statistician at the U.S. Census Bureau. But Liberia wasn’t done with him and at this point, almost 20 years after leaving, Penn was ready to answer the call.
“I was recruited by the President of Cuttington University to lecture in mathematics during [the 2011-12 school year],” Penn said. “I [had] retired from the Bureau and felt safe to return to Africa after the long and deadly Liberian Civil War ended.”
Cuttington University is a private school in the area of Suacoco in Liberia. The university was founded in 1889 by the Episcopal Church of the United States, making it the oldest private university in not just that country, but all of sub-Saharan Africa.
In April of this year, Penn returned to Wainsue, where he was a Peace Corps volunteer 43 years before. He went with a plan in mind to help. “In recognition and with compassion for the dire needs of the subsistence farmers, I had to do something,” Penn said. “The children were actually struggling to attend school, being taken from class regularly to assist their parents with farm chores was discouraging to the scholarly students.”
In Wainsue, there is no senior high school. Students who wish to attend must travel 10 miles to Gbarnga City, which houses the nearest facility with classes for 10th through 12th grade.
“I felt compelled to do something to stimulate the desire to persevere on the part of those seeking to better their lives through at least a high school diploma,” Penn said.
The professor offered a $300 per-year scholarship to the top ranking ninth grader in the Wainsue junior high school, Peterson Flomo. Liberia uses the same system of money as the United States, with dollars as the currency, but the value is far different. Due to the current economic situation in that country, a $300 scholarship is worth $32,400 in Liberian dollars.
“This will enable the top ranking ninth grade junior high graduate to rent a room in Gbarnga, pay registration fees, buy food, buy school supplies,” Penn said. “Of course, the family will help too, but the $32,400 LD will most definitely help out.”
Completing senior high school will open many doors for Flomo.
“He can go on to technical college or the university. He can obtain gainful employment, as most job applications require at least a high school diploma,” Penn said. “By winning the scholarship, he will encourage other youth not to give up on life and to stay out of mischief.”
If you want to help
Penn has set up a donation center for anyone who wants to contribute. Funds may be mailed to the Cuttington University Endowment, P.O. Box 10-0277, Monrovia, 1000 Montserrado, Liberia. Penn recommends that donations be specifically marked as “scholarship funds.”
Amie Knowles reports for the Martinsville Bulletin. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Culled from: http://www.martinsvillebulletin.com/

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