Eric Wowoh – Founder of Change Agent Network, Working to Transform Liberia Through Education

Eric Willese Wowoh of Change Agent Network joins Discover Lafayette to share his special bond with Lafayette, Louisiana and his mission to transform the entire nation of Liberia through improving educational outcomes.

Eric is a humanitarian and social entrepreneur known for his efforts in education, community development, and social change, particularly in Liberia. He is the founder of Change Agent Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving education and providing opportunities for underprivileged communities. Eric’s work has been instrumental in building schools, promoting educational programs, and fostering economic development in Liberia and other parts of Africa. His inspiring journey from a refugee to a change-maker has garnered recognition and support from various international organizations and individuals.

A native of Liberia, West Africa, Eric grew up in a non-Christian home where African religion practices (Juju and Vodou) were followed. He lived alongside his seven siblings and his parents in a 15′ x 20′ hut with no running water or electricity; the kids slept on bamboo mats on a dirt floor. He never knew his birthdate as a midwife assisted his mother in his birth outside of a hospital setting, and as he says, “In Africa, birthdates were not important.”

Liberia (“Land of the Free”) was established in 1822 as a home for freed African American slaves. Land was purchased by the American Colonization Society for the resettlement. It is a small country on the West coast of Africa and today approximately 5 million people inhabit it. The capitol is Monrovia, named after President James Monroe. For a short history on the country, see the PBS video below.

One meal a day was eaten in Eric’s childhood, typically at 8 p.m., and centered on crops such as peppers, sweet potatoes, okra and rice. The kids would walk for 2 to 3 hours a day each way to tend their parents’ farm. “We never knew about breakfast, lunch or dinner!” Eric’s job, as early as 7 years old) was to hunt squirrels, ground hogs, deer and snakes for food, using a bow and arrow. His mom used lots of spicy pepper to get the kids to drink lots of water (gathered from a local creek) and stretch the food being offered. Supper was served late so that the children wouldn’t awaken hungry during the night.

Life was beautiful for Eric and his family, and he thought that was how the whole world was. He never thought about whether he would be a doctor or a lawyer, as he says that Liberians didn’t dream about a profession; they just lived their lives simply without a formal education as we Americans know it.

However, Eric’s peaceful childhood was caught up in the ravages of Liberia’s Civil War which began in 1989. He says, “At first, no one took it seriously. But they were wrong not to worry. In six months, the rebels took over the whole country of Liberia and there was no one in charge except for the young fighters. “We were under curfew from dusk to dawn or you would be killed. The rebels wore no uniforms so it was difficult to determine who would put you in danger.” People began to starve as there were no rescue efforts and they couldn’t tend their farms as they were told to stay home.

Eric Wowoh’s inspiring story of survival and overcoming years spent as an international refuge in exile may be read in more detail in his book, “Return of a Refugee”, available for purchase on Amazon. Eric went on to create Change Agent Network, an international nonprofit dedicated to transforming Liberia through education.

Eric’s mom sent him off with friends on a two-day fishing trip. He was young and strong, and she thought he could survive. On the way home, he was captured and beaten by rebel fighters and told he needed to join the freedom fighters who would save the country. When he declined, he was declared an enemy and then tortured with electric cables, beaten, and left to die. Both of his arms were broken and left useless. The leader in charge saw that Eric couldn’t hold a gun and was unable to fight, so they released him but didn’t allow him to go back home. He joined thousands of other refugees and headed to the Ivory Coast. He then spent years in 12 different refugee camps in 11 nations throughout West Africa, and was ultimately separated from his family for over 20 years.

“God designed everything for a purpose. I didn’t choose where I was born or who my mom, dad or siblings would be. But it was all put together wonderfully by Him. We all have a story to tell. These stories are not ours. We are just the characters within the story.”

In 1992, Eric was exposed to the principles of Christianity for the first time by a preacher who challenged the refugees to understand that God loved them enough to save them from the fighting in the Civil War. God had big plans for them.

On December 23, 1992, Eric heard a minister preaching, saying, “God loved you and brought you out of civil war. He has big plans for you….God saved you to prepare you and bring you back to make the change your people need.” When the minister started praying, Eric closed his eyes and contemplated the words, “God will take care of you and bring you places you never dreamed.”

Eric ended up in refuge camp in Nigeria and remembers being told that the youth were the hope for the future. Yet, he understood the stark reality that very few of them could read or write, so how could they lead? But, Eric had learned to read through education at a refugee camp.

Eric stepped up to lead and taught other refugees how to use a computer, which had been donated. Eric reached out to have other computers donated to the camp so that more people could learn. The refugees were eager to sit in on his classes as he brought them a glimpse of how the outside world functioned.

In 2006, Eric was selected to relocate to Lafayette, Louisiana through a refugee resettlement program administered by the US Government and the Catholic Diocese of Acadiana, by meeting two criteria: He had been a refugee for over ten years, and he had survived abuse, torture and violence.

He arrived in Lafayette LA on August 27, 2006, at 10 p.m. with his wife and child, with no ID, no luggage, money, phone, or friends. With the help of the Catholic Diocese, Eric was able to live for six months at the University Place Apartments near UL, with the rent being paid to allow him time to obtain employment and get settled.

The culture shock of how Americans lived, i.e., electricity, temperature-controlled air-conditioning, microwaves, cars, and all the food you could eat was overwhelming. In fact, Eric thought that the amount of food stocked in the refrigerator provided by the Diocese was more than enough to have lived on for a year back home. He also wondered why so few people were in the street; where he grew up, people walked everywhere. Here, everyone is in a car, in what Eric again saw as overwhelming abundance.

One day, Eric saw three computers in a dumpster, along with couches and televisions. It was explained to him that most UL students bring in new stuff and then trash the no-longer needed items when they leave. Eric realized that there were boundless “Leftovers from the American Dream.” He wanted to give back to other countrymen who couldn’t get out of Liberia. Eric prayed to God that if this was His will, to open doors that only He could open. In the meantime, he kept on collecting ‘leftovers’ and stored them in his apartment.

On Thanksgiving 2006, Eric was walking to the laundry mat to wash his clothes when a KATC reporter stopped him to interview him on how he was celebrating the holiday. When he asked her, “What is Thanksgiving?” the reporter was taken aback and they discussed Eric’s background and recent arrival to the U. S. She wanted to see how he lived and she noticed all of the used equipment he was storing with the hope of sending the items back to Liberia. Upon deciding to run a story on Eric and his mission, she told him she needed his phone number to air so that people could call in with their donations; he learned the hard way that he was unable to obtain a phone because he had no Social Security Number or driver’s license to provide the carrier: they said he didn’t exist. Luckily, his next door neighbor, a UL student from Tennessee, allowed him to use her phone number for callers who had items to donate. And the calls flooded in once the story aired.

Eric was advised to set up a non-profit so that he could accept the donations legally. Looking up attorneys in the phone book, he started with “A” and called several times for locally, well-respected attorney Ed Abell. Once Ed heard Eric’s story, he volunteered to set up the non-profit organization and took care of all fees incurred. By the grace of God, the help of Ed Abell, and many, many others, Eric established the Change Agent Network.

Eric met Lou Meinerz, executive assistant to Matt Stuller, when he was visiting to ask for a donation. His story touched her heart and she brought him to meet her congregation at Trinity Bible Church. Once hearing his story, two parishioners, Heather Lecky and Marti Thomas, traveled to Liberia to check out Eric’s mission to build schools as the path to transforming the country’s future. They immediately jumped in headfirst to be of assistance, and are still involved to this day.

Change Agent Network is a registered 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization with the goal to transform the entire nation of Liberia through Education, mentorship, and Sustainable Development fueled by the power of prayer. His organization has built 28 faith-based public schools schools in Liberia, educating over 4,000 underserved and vulnerable children. It has employed people as teachers, nurses, and other professionals.

“None of this would have been possible without Lafayette. I believe God handpicked this place. There is something special about Acadiana, its culture, its people, their faith and family values, and respect for people. People just love you. None of this would have been possible if I had ended up somewhere else other than here. Lafayette is my home. I tell people I am an “African Cajun.” We only moved to Dallas for logistics (easier flights out to Liberia) and to be able to expand the platform of Change Agent Network.”

Today Liberia is the 8th poorest country in the world. Due to the civil war that ravaged the country and scattered its citizens throughout Africa and beyond, the average age of a Liberian is 18. Only one out of four children can read. The average salary of a worker such as a teacher or nurse is $100 per month. Outside of Monrovia, there is still no running water or electricity for most people.

Change Agent Network gathers American’s “leftovers” to send to Liberia for those who are grateful to have access to our surplus. Through partnerships with businesses, schools, churches, and individuals, surplus items such as laptops, cell phones, I-pads, clothing, musical instruments, shoes, etc., are redirected from a future life in a landfill. What is out of style, wrong size, or slightly broken can be put to good use by less fortunate children and their families. This program is much more than just distributing resources, it’s about dignity, hope and a new opportunity for individuals facing severe hardships.

For more information, visit Your resources and financial support are needed to continue this effort to transform Liberia and its future.

We thank Eric Wowoh for sharing his life story, his resilience, and his steadfast belief that through God all things truly are possible.