CHARLESTON—Dominican Father Obinna JohnBosco Ikemeh has a vision of helping African children improve their lives through education, but his first hurdle isn’t classrooms or books or even teachers. It’s water.
The Nigerian-born priest, who today serves as a chaplain for hospitals at the Medical University of South Carolina, has helped found African Education Outreach (www.african educationoutreach.org), a public nonprofit organization 501(c)(3) that is working to see Father JohnBosco’s vision realized not just in Nigeria, but across the African continent.
Although he has already secured a 10-acre tract for a school in Nigeria, there must be drinking water before the project can proceed.
“Our target is now to raise $107,000 to give them access to drinking water while we gather the resources for the school,” he explained recently. “It’s more than bricks; we need the water.”
Father JohnBosco said the education outreach has raised at least $20,000 toward the $107,000 goal. The money will go toward purchasing equipment to make it possible to drill wells, and for facilities to make the water potable.
“We have a problem with the salt — it makes the underground water hard to use,” he said. “We will need a treatment plant and storage plant.”
Much of the funds raised thus far have come from missions in Georgetown and Florence, Father JohnBosco said, but he hopes to raise awareness of his fundraising efforts across the Palmetto State.
Plans call for the proposed school in Nigeria, the Karis Dominican Academy, to be built in three phases. The goal of the first phase, Father JohnBosco said, is to construct classrooms and dormitories to support 100 students. To ensure the students’ safety, the first phase also includes the construction of a security fence.
African Education Outreach was founded in 2014, and after a slow start, is building momentum. “In 2014 and 2015, we barely knew what we were doing,” the priest said. “Now we are moving forward.”
He credits much of the recent success to the addition of James Wood as president and CEO of the education outreach, who joined the staff in May 2016.
Father JohnBosco has an intimate understanding of the need for African children to receive the opportunities afforded by education. As a child in Nigeria, he was caught up in the Biafran Civil War, which caused his family to become homeless refugees for two years. During that time, although he yearned to go to school, there were few opportunities until he was invited by Father Kevin Ikpah to live with the orphans and other poor families in church quarters. With this help, the young altar boy was able to gain an education.
As an adult, he returned to Africa to visit a friend, and what he saw fueled his dream of building schools.
“I could not believe the devastation,” he said. “It reminded me of the devastation after the Nigerian Civil War.”
Photo provided: Dominican Father Obinna JohnBosco Ikemeh interacts with a group of children from the community in Abakaliki.