Elton Yoko grew up in Kakata, Liberia, at the height of the country’s civil war. The war claimed more than 200,000 lives and displaced millions more.
“The only memory I have of my childhood is of war,” Elton says. “My parents had to move constantly and, as a child, I didn’t have the time to enjoy, to play.”
Elton, who went on to study development at St. Clement University, was always conscious of his impact on the world and of the opportunity he had to make a difference.
Today Elton organizes street cleanup projects across the country, where trash buildup draws pests and spreads bacteria. The situation in Liberia puts residents at a higher risk of contracting malaria and other diseases.
Elton begins planning his events by sitting down with community leaders and explaining his project goals. With the support of local leadership, Elton meets with community members to determine which areas need the most work. The resulting cleanup projects typically start at 7:30 a.m. and run until 10 a.m. to avoid the city’s crowds.
One challenge Elton has faced is keeping volunteers motivated. Many see street cleaning as a waste of time, especially at an early hour and with no compensation.
“I always ask my volunteers, ‘If you left this community tomorrow, how would you want to be remembered?’” Elton says. “‘How can you contribute to make your community better?’”
Elton encourages his fellow volunteers to keep an open mind and to see their work not as labor for the sake of labor but as an opportunity to meet new people and to directly see the results of their work.
“I tell our volunteers that they are doing something for their country,” Elton says. “Once they have that mindset, they know that their work is making a difference, that it’s worth the cost.”
For Elton, running a successful volunteer event calls for a new kind of leadership, one both attainable and inspiring.
“Volunteers need to be able to see what their leader sees,” Elton says. “And to believe what their leader believes.”
With this common goal in mind, Elton explains, cleaning streets in Liberia is a service to the country, to each other, and to a greater good.
Interested in Elton’s work? Learn how you can volunteer to serve Africa on our #YALIServes page.