Imagine being six and eight years old and walking barefooted for four miles to fetch water for your family. Although this is just your imagination, unfortunately, in 2013 it was reality for Etta and Helena, two young girls whose only formal education consisted of them learning the safest travel routes in Monrovia, Liberia to the nearest water-well.
But then there was HOPE, on August 30, 2013, founder Eli Gbayee saw the two young girls walking barefooted, in the rain, with buckets on their heads. Intrigued with what he saw, Eli stopped the young girls and asked, “Why don’t you have any shoes on your feet?” One girl replied, “Because my dad does not have any money.” Touched by their unfortunate circumstances and later learned shared by many others in their community, Eli contacted his church, Second Baptist, for assistance. Thus, Eli was sent two hundred dollars from the youth group, S.W.A.G.G.A.R. (Serving with Attitude Giving God All Reverence) to purchase one hundred and twenty pairs of flip-flops for young children living on Gurley Street South Beach in Monrovia.
While visiting this slump, as a poor community is referred to in Liberia, Eli encountered many financially and educationally deprived families. For the first time in fourteen years, Eli experienced a clear flashback of his childhood. From this encounter, Eli was compelled to do something. God laid it on his heart to respond and as a result, Hope-for-Liberia was born.
Hope For Liberia is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide the poorest communities with food, clothing, potable water, and basic supplies, as well as access to medical care and educational opportunities, which will promote personal development and community involvement. We are committed to impacting lives, one step at a time, with the motto in mind, “Together We Can Give HOPE”.
FROM THE BEGINNING
Born in Monrovia, Liberia in 1984, Eli was separated from his family after the civil war broke out in 1989. Running for safety at age four, Eli had no idea if his parents survived as he walked from Liberia to Sierra Leone, Board Waterside. Once there, Eli found himself living in several refugee camps, which he would later call home for the next eight and a half years.
Lost, hungry, and scared, there was a saying in the camp; “Only the strong will survive.” As a result, Eli quickly learned that picking from garbage cans and drinking dirty water was pertinent to his survival. He can recall rebels attacking and having to flee his tent with nothing except the clothing on his back. This continuous cycle left blisters on the bottom of his feet because he would walk without shoes for weeks, sometimes months at a time.
After eight and a half years of living in refugee camps, at God’s appointed time, Eli was recognized by a woman he later learned was his aunt. As an infant, Eli sustained a scar above his left eye after surviving a car accident. He also was born with a birthmark on his left hand and although it was eight and a half years since his aunt last seen him, his identity was undeniable. Shortly after this encounter, Eli was reunited with his mother who was scheduled to come to America just three months later through a program called The International Organization for Migration.
A SECOND CHANCE
On August 3, 1999, Eli moved to America. Although he was fourteen reading on a second-grade level, Eli would thank God, every day for the opportunity to live in a place, to this day, he considers heaven on earth. He states, “by bringing me to the United States, I received a chance to pursue an education, something that was last on my mind when living in Liberia.” Eli’s burning desire to read and write on a ninth-grade reading level caused him to stay after school until seven o’clock at night until his educational abilities matched his peers. Four years later, he successfully graduated from Absegami High School. Eli later went on to graduate from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey (Stockton University) in 2009 with a Bachelors's in Hospitality Management and a minor in Business.
Prior to graduating college, Eli served as the Recruitment Chairman of the Men Achieving Leadership Excellence and Success (M.A.L.E.S) Program and as Secretary of Marketing for the Hospitality Management Society, an organization that helps raise money for orphans and widows. This marked the beginning of Eli’s stewardship.
Eli was a member of the LEADACT (Lead Atlantic City Tomorrow) Program, which was offered through a partnership between the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) and the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. Currently, he serves as a board member on Hope for Atlantic City and plays a vital role in the outreach ministry at Second Baptist Church located in Atlantic City, New Jersey under the honorable Reverend Pastor Collins Days. Eli also coaches soccer at Absegami High School. He believes it’s not just a sport, but a place where students can learn about perseverance and teamwork. When not offering advice on the field, Eli can be found at various high schools delivering speeches which empower youth to make a difference. His passion to make a difference is what lead him to establish the non-profit organization, Hope-for-Liberia.