Liliane Ballout takes a little bit of her home country Liberia with her everywhere she goes on the Lewis-Clark State College campus.
If it seems that she is like an ambassador for the West African country, well she really is because she is serving as the current Miss Africa Idaho.
The senior, who is scheduled to graduate this spring with a bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts, has deep affection for Liberia and her hometown on Monrovia, which has a population of around 940,000. This pride led her to compete in the Miss Africa Idaho pageant last November in Boise where she was crowned the winner.
The Miss Africa Idaho event serves as a cultural education scholarship program. The goal is to educate the public on the diverse African culture and provide scholarship opportunities for young African women studying in the United States. The pageant gives contestants the chance to share their culture, pride, accomplishments and their platform.
At the event, the program featured dances, traditional outfits, a talent contest, and formal wear. The contestants also had to wear a dress of their own design that featured the colors of the flag from the region they represent. The Liberian flag is very similar to the U.S. flag with horizontal red and white stripes, but it has only one white star on a blue background in the upper right corner instead of 50 stars.
Liliane says she gave a speech on her life, including her background and future plans, and sang for the talent portion. She says she was both happy and surprised when she was named the winner.
“The title of Miss Africa Idaho means a lot to me,” Liliane says. “It means that I get to be a part of a positive and permanent impact. It means I get to represent my country and my people. It means I get to stand up and fight along with others currently fighting for the betterment of the country. It means a lot.”
Liliane came to the U.S. to attend college, first landing at Centralia Community College in Washington where she earned her associate’s degree. She learned about LC State there and enrolled in the fall 2019 semester.
“I decided to attend Lewis-Clark State College because it offered a lot to me as an international student in terms of scholarships, in-state tuition, and a free application,” she says.
She chose Communication Arts as her major because she feels it will help her in any field regardless of her career. She says she plans to attend graduate school for a Master’s degree in Social Work.
Liliane says she has enjoyed her classes at LC, especially those taught by Marcy Halpin, Amy Minervini and Kyle Ferguson, although it has been a challenging year with the pandemic.
“It was a tough year as a whole, even before the pandemic,” she says. “But there was a time (last spring) when my father got COVID and my family was exposed to him so they all had to be quarantined, leaving them limited to work and interacting with the outside work.”
With her family quarantined and the LC campus going to remote and online classes to finish the spring semester, Liliane says she felt isolated for a few weeks. She is happy LC State is using a mix of live, online and hybrid classes this year, and although she’s been able to talk with her family, she unfortunately hasn’t been able to return home to visit.
Still, Liliane says she has enjoyed her experience at LC State.
“My advice for someone thinking about attending LC State is to put yourself out there – join clubs, take on a leadership role in school,” she says. “And the most important thing is to get good grades so you can get more scholarships!”
With Miss Africa Idaho, Liliane’s term runs through 2021. Her responsibilities include making appearances at venues throughout Idaho as well as other states, discussing the platform of Miss Africa Idaho, and encouraging women to try a new experience.
Encouraging women is dear to Liliane’s heart. As part of her Miss Africa Idaho platform, she often talks about the importance of empowering women.
“There are a lot of problems in Liberia regarding women’s rights, and with the platform we raise awareness, volunteer, and partner up with nonprofit organizations to work with, providing women hygiene kits and shipping it to women in Idaho and Liberia, among other places,” she says.
Liliane is involved with Women Empowering Women, a group that brings women together to learn, encourage, advocate and give back.
“I am currently looking for women who are interested in being a part of my platform,” Liliane says. “Women Empowering Women is all about creating a safe space for a group of diverse young women to be able to voice their concerns and share experiences while fighting together to promote, uplift, and empower other women through our quarterly activities.”
Liliane says those who are interested in joining her efforts or more information on Women Empowering Women can email her at [email protected].
Liliane says she is excited to see what the future has in store for her.
“I am not totally sure about my longer-term career plan but I want it to be something I promote for my country and to be able to help with providing jobs,” she says.