Growing up in Liberia, Otis had the chance to briefly attend school, but was pulled out when his parents could no longer afford to pay school fees for all of their children. School fees prompt hard choices for many families in Liberia. In this West African country of 4.9 million people, between 15-20% of  6–14 year-olds are out of school. Feeling the strain of supporting their family of eleven, Otis’s mother and father made the difficult decision to send Otis to his aunt’s house where he helped with household chores.

Otis outside his classroom

Despite having to leave school, Otis’s brief, early exposure to learning had him hooked. Eager to continue learning, Otis asked his older brother to teach him, and soon Otis was learning basic letters and numbers.

Early last year, at ten years of age, Otis finally had the chance to return to the classroom again. He enrolled in the Luminos Fund’s free catch-up education program for out-of-school children, known as Second Chance. In a class of 30 students, Otis rapidly began to build on his basic knowledge of letters and numbers with the help of his teacher. Like many of his classmates, Otis loves Luminos’ play-based activities best. For Otis, experiencing joyful learning has made all the difference on his education journey.

“I like school because it is helping me learn how to read!” says Otis. His rapid progress has not gone unnoticed by his parents.

“I can now see him writing on everything in the house—and he can spell some words now,” says Otis’s father.

Otis’s mother, Sata, has noticed the writing, too. She remarked that Otis is now able to read a few small things and hopes that Otis will be able to read for the family since Sata herself is not literate. Both of Otis’s parents have seen the impact of Luminos’ Second Chance program in their communities firsthand.

“I know children who are now in 7th grade after they finished the program years ago,” says Sata.

Most Luminos students transition into public schools at the 3rd or 4th grade level after they graduate. Continuing to 7th grade means these students successfully completed primary school and are continuing their education!

Otis’s father agreed with Sata, saying, “Second Chance has helped the community because a lot of students are now in the public school.”

“Second Chance has helped the community because a lot of students are now in the public school.”

Otis’s father

Otis sits with his father outside their home looking at a workbook.

Luminos takes a holistic approach to education. Not only do we run catch-up education programs for out-of-school children, but we also recruit and train local young adults as teachers for our classrooms and engage parents in the learning journey.

Parents of Luminos students like Otis participate in monthly parent engagement groups where they step inside the classroom. During meetings, students may read a passage or demonstrate their writing skills in front of parents and community members. This is especially motivating for parents as they see the vast progress their children have made because of Second Chance. Parent engagement meetings also emphasize the importance of child protection and safeguarding, and challenge gender-based stereotypes that constrain women and girls. Parents in these groups commit to one another that they will keep their children in school, creating a network of accountability.

In Liberia where over half the population lives below the poverty line, and 1.6 million people are food insecure, Luminos provides a crucial midday meal to students and employs a local parent to prepare the food. In Otis’s class, his mother, Sata, prepares the meals. She receives a monthly stipend to purchase and prepare the ingredients, and cooks a satisfying hot meal of rice and beans for all the children each day.

“I enjoy the work,” says Sata. “I’m happy to help the program that is helping my child.”

Sata prepares a midday meal for the students in Otis’s class.

When asked about their dreams for Otis, his father replies, “I dream that he will be educated and do everything he wants to do.”

Sata chimes in, “I dream that he will learn a lot and become a better person tomorrow to help the family.”

With Otis’s parents behind him and the Luminos program providing a path back into mainstream education, his future of learning looks bright. For Otis, education isn’t something he wants to keep to himself. “Education is important because it will help me learn—and help my younger sister,” says Otis proudly.

“Education is important because it will help me learn—and help my younger sister.”

Otis, 10-year-old Luminos student in Liberia

Otis learning in class. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Luminos has provided masks to students and teachers in addition to hand-washing stations when classrooms reopened under guidance from the Liberian Ministry of Education.

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The Luminos Fund is a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt charitable organization registered in the United States (EIN 36-4817073).

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