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Barbara Kamara

Sia Barbara Kamara likes to point out that she was “kicked out of kindergarten” while a Peace Corps teacher in Tappita, Liberia, in the early 1960s.  She was a middle school math teacher when, as a favor to a friend, she “moonlighted” teaching his ABC class so he could finish his own education. “We don’t let foreigners teach below third grade,” she was told by school officials. The Ministry thought her math teaching was wasted on middle school, too.  In order not to lose Sia Barbara to Monrovia, her principal assigned her to the high school. In the summers, she taught higher mathematics to teachers at the Zorzor Teacher Training Institute.  But she had learned a valuable lesson in the ABC class. For Sia Barbara, the seed had been sewn for a career caring about early childhood education (ECE) that would make her a legend in the field.

Back in the States, teacher training in her native South Carolina brought her the opportunity to look into a new program, Head Start.  She visited every program in the state and codified the board rules for the program. In 1978, President Carter’s team persuaded her to come to Washington, D.C., where she would make a big difference.  President Carter appointed Sia Barbara associate commissioner in the Department of Health and Human Services, responsible for the National Head Start Program, the Appalachian Regional Commission child development programs, child care regulations, and research and demonstration programs.  She managed a budget of approximately $1B.  When she started, 100,000 children were served in a program that grew to include 122 million under her watch. When administrations changed at the federal level, she was recruited by Mayor Marion Barry to take care of ECE in D.C.  She stayed through four mayors, ensuring safe and reasonable childcare, Head Start, and a lot of what a child needed to grow up smart and have an equal chance at life.  In 2010, UNICEF invited her back to advise the Liberian Ministry of Education.