Robtel Neajai Pailey – Human Rights Profile

Every month, we highlight an important person fighting for Human Rights in various ways. This month, we would like to highlight Robtel Neajai Pailey.

Children are refreshingly truthful until we socialise them to be otherwise. I wanted to stop that socialisation process in its tracks by giving children the verbal tools to grapple with the blurred lines between honesty and dishonesty. In writing Gbagba — which loosely translates as ‘trickery’ in my mother’s Bassa language — I hope to build a movement of children who question corruption — resist it, even — and embarrass adults into living more authentic, ethical lives.

Robtel Neajai Pailey is an activist, academic and author from Liberia who is recognised for her active engagement in fighting corruption, among other. She has served in various capacities at universities, government bodies, non-governmental organisations and the media, and is currently working as an Assistant Professor in International Social and Public Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

While working in Liberia in the late 2000s, she realised how deeply rooted corruption is in society and that children are often socialised from an early age to adopt this type of dishonest behaviour. This inspired her to publish two anti-corruption books for children. By doing so, she hoped to teach children the importance of staying truthful and in turn motivate adults to do the same.

The first book, Gbagba, meaning ‘trickery’, was published in 2013 and has since been introduced in many schools in Liberia and Ghana as a supplemental reader for 3rd to 5th grades. In addition, the book is under review by education boards in many more African countries. It’s sequel, Jaadeh!, which translates to ‘truthfulness’ or ‘honesty’, came out in 2019. The two books have been adapted into songs, music videos, a short radio drama, and even a stage play with an all-child cast.Robtel has also organised workshops for children in several countries including Côte d’Ivoire, Jamaica, Mozambique and the UK.She has received numerous awards for her outstanding work as an activist and academic. These include the International Anti-Corruption Excellence Award in the category ‘academic research and education’, which she was awarded in 2018 by the Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption Centre (ROLACC). 

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