As parents of Estrada Jefferson Bernard, III, EJ, we would like to set the record straight concerning his participation in the recent roundtable oil discussions in Liberia.
This is the first and only time that we intend to comment on recent events. The views expressed here are solely our own.
My wife and I are both physicians. We have worked very hard and have been very blessed to have done relatively well in our professional and personal lives. We strongly believe, and we have taught EJ, that underlying our modicum of success is a strong commitment to God and our willingness to do what glorifies Him. We recognize and remind EJ that, to whom much is given by God, much is required.
These values then, have compelled us for years now, to voluntarily give our services, time and resources to Liberia. We have returned Liberia on multiple occasions, always at our own expense, to work at the JFK Hospital to teach or provide medical care, bringing with us other skilled personnel and medical supplies. In recent years, we have chosen to focus on assisting at a rural mission school where again we have brought others from our church, at their expense, to assist with teaching and infrastructure projects. Each time we have brought teaching resources, books and toys for the teachers and students there, without fanfare or attention. We understand that all of these efforts are just a drop in the ocean, compared to the needs, but I think that we can say with confidence that we are trying in our own small, but consistent way, to help Liberians and the process of rebuilding in Liberia.
We have done these things, not because we are looking for attention or something in return, but because the love of Christ compels us. Further, when President Sirleaf was first inaugurated in 2005, we asked how we could help. Her response was to encourage us to come whenever we could to share our knowledge and skills. That is what we have gladly tried to do over the past 9 years. Though we have not received any monetary reward or financial assistance, the intangible benefits have been enormous. Each time we leave, our hearts are full and we are encouraged. After our first visit to the mission school two years ago, some of the children cried when we left. A few weeks ago when we returned, they cried again, but this time it was because they were joyful that we had kept our promise to return. Witnessing their joy and happiness as well as their eagerness to learn was something that money can not buy.
We have tried to communicate our enthusiasm for service to Liberia to EJ. When he elected to do the high school gifted mentorship focusing on the application of the Alaska model of oil resource management in Liberia, we were supportive and excited. We were happy to see that he was thinking about how he could access information and expertise that could potentially be helpful to Liberia.
In consultation with his mentor, EJ developed a presentation that highlighted the idea of the Commons, that the resources of the country are owned in common by all citizens and that every citizen should benefit from them. The former governor of Alaska, Walter Hickel, was a champion of promoting the application of this concept in Alaska.
As part of EJ’s presentation he discussed Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend, and considered whether a similar direct annual payment to each citizen of Liberia would be practical or judicious.
His enthusiasm for the project was contagious and spurred his mentor, as well as three other adults with expertise in the oil sector to want to be involved, without an expectation of consulting fees.
So when the opportunity came for EJ to join the other Alaskans to present at the Oil Roundtable, he was very enthusiastic. He welcomed an opportunity to speak, especially to other young people to hopefully mobilize them to become involved in the discussions about oil resource management, since their future would be directly impacted by what happens in that sector. We believed so strongly in what he wanted to do that we paid for his travel and arranged his accommodations. Let us be unequivocally clear, we nor he, have received any remuneration, stipend or fees for his travel or participation.
He never professed to be an expert, but because the Alaska model presentation was developed under the stewardship of his mentor, Malcolm Roberts (who worked closely with Governor Hickel for many years), he relished the idea of delivering it as a young son of Liberia. Of course, although his white, older and gray haired mentor with the expertise could have delivered the presentation, EJ wanted to do it as a proud son of Liberia. In fact, his mentor felt that his participation would be essential. EJ attended, but appropriately did not participate on the expert panels that were held on the other 3 days of the conference. The invited members of the Alaska delegation however, actively participated in the question and answer sessions that were held, while EJ listened and learned.
We apologize if we unknowingly offended any rules of decorum or any particular individual. Honestly, we had hoped that his presentation would add to the discussion about how all Liberians can benefit from a potential oil discovery, just as citizens have in the oil-rich state of Alaska. It is very disappointing then, that in the aftermath the focus of the roundtable discussions has become his participation, rather than his message, or for that matter, the opinions and views of the experts and stakeholders who participated. It is especially dispiriting to see the idealism of a child undermined by the adults who attacked so vociferously when he tried to give his best, without any word of encouragement from some key local stakeholders.
We will continue to keep Liberia and all Liberians in our prayers and to do what we can to help, as God directs us. One of our prayers is that cynicism and suspicion will not be the first to greet, and follow those who come to Liberia with honorable intentions. Not everyone who comes to Liberia is looking for something to take; some of us truly come to give back because of our conviction that is the right thing to do.
Please know that there still are people in the world who really do care, who want to make a difference, who want to help and to do God’s will, though we know that we can sometimes do so imperfectly. There are people who visit Liberia who are not looking for positions, jobs or for avenues to enrich themselves. I know of many people who are doing well in the US of their own accord, willing to spend their own money to travel to Liberia to provide hands-on help, to purchase books, medical supplies or whatever is needed, without the expectation of anything in return. There are people who believe that there is enough for all of us in this world, if we learn to share, honor and respect, and to help one another. There are still people who desire to be the hands and feet and at our best, poor reflections of Christ. It is with this spirit that we and EJ, visited Liberia. May God bless the Republic of Liberia.
Estrada J. Bernard, Jr., M.D., FACS