The power of education in a young person’s life is beautifully illustrated by the story of Samuel “Kaboo” Morris. Kaboo was the son of a Kru chief in southern Liberia, and in 1891 he miraculously found his way to America. His story includes a remarkable escape from the hands of an enemy tribe, learning from missionaries at a coffee plantation, and a harrowing journey to America aboard a merchant sailing vessel. A divine encounter in New York City brought him to Taylor University in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a small institution deeply in debt and struggling for survival.
Morris was a humble man who had developed a deep faith in God and a passion for learning. He had a profound effect on the Taylor student body. Tragically, he died of a respiratory illness during his second winter on campus. However, in those 18 months, he greatly impacted the school and the city of Fort Wayne. It was a racially divided America, and the funeral of this young black man was reported to have drawn the largest funeral attendance in the history of the city. Pamphlets and books were written about his life, and money started pouring in to the University. The school survived to become the thriving institution that it is today.
Morris’s plan to return to his homeland to teach his people was never realized. Innovative Education International (IEI) desires to fulfill Morris’s dream by taking his story to children and youth throughout Liberia as a source of hope and inspiration. We believe Samuel Morris could become a national hero in this country that has endured such hardship over the past several decades. If the Samuel Morris Scholars Program proves successful in Liberia, IEI plans to replicate the model in other under-resourced countries around the world.
In 1997, a Liberian American, Elijah Tarpeh, discovered the story of his countryman, Samuel Morris. Tarpeh, a regional sales manager for Chrysler Corporation, was surprised that this remarkable story was not known in the Liberian community. Tarpeh was even more surprised when he learned that he and Morris grew up in the same region of Liberia - Sinoe County!
In 1999, Tarpeh and other Sinoeans living in the US organized the Sinoe County Association in the Americas (SCAA). In 2004, members of the SCAA connected with Taylor University (TU) and began discussing how the legacy of Samuel Morris might be preserved in Liberia as it had been at TU. Three life-sized sculptures of Morris are prominently displayed on TU’s campus, and the largest residence hall bears his name. In 2006, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the two organizations to build an educational resource center in Sinoe County named in Morris’s honor, and shortly thereafter a 31-acre plot of ground was purchased for that purpose.
In 2010, a small delegation from SCAA and TU flew to Liberia and had an audience with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. The vision to “take Samuel Morris back to his homeland” was shared with the president and other high-ranking officials. In 2013, ground was broken for the Samuel “Kaboo” Morris Educational Resource and Conference Center in Farmersville, Sinoe County. Fundraising for the project became a priority.
In 2014, a vision emerged to bring to Liberian schools computer-based resources such as the Khan Academy. In March, a team of TU faculty, students, and SCAA partners hand-carried to Liberia 17 laptops loaded with KA-Lite, the downloadable version of Khan Academy. A successful math workshop was held for 64 5th-12th grade students from five Sinoe County schools. The workshop was hosted at the Golden Veroleum Liberia plantation.
In 2015, a third organization joined the partnership, Ambassador Enterprises (AE). AE formed the nonprofit organization, Innovative Education International, to launch the Samuel Morris Scholars Program in Liberia. As of September 2017, IEI is established in 11 schools and one university in three out of the 15 counties. IEI has provided approximately 500 laptops to these schools for student and teacher use. Since the beginning of the program, 5,000 students have participated in some way, and the program is benefiting over 2,000 students on a daily basis.