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Refugee Honors His Education by Building a School in West Africa

Published: September 21, 2012
Dodé Ackey ’12 is working to grow a school he founded in Niger.
Dodé Ackey ’12 is working to grow a school he founded in Niger.
Dodé Ackey ’12 knows the value of an education. When he was in high school, he fled his native Togo for West African neighbor Benin. Overcrowded public schools in Benin meant there was no place for Ackey, a refugee, unless he paid for private school.

He knew that education would pave the way to a better future, so he bought fabric in the local markets, had a tailor craft dress shirts and sold them to cover the fees of his three years in high school.

Under the Federal Refugee Resettlement Program, Ackey found his way to Tampa, FL, in 1996.

“The first thing that shocked me was how available schooling was,” Ackey said.

He eventually got his associate degree from Hillsborough Community College, his bachelor’s degree in finance and Master of Business Administration from the University of South Florida, and most recently, his Master of Science in Accounting from UT, graduating this August.

“I knew education was key for wellbeing, for yourself and those around you,” said Ackey, an assistant vice president in share services at Citigroup. “With what I learn over here, I can help those left behind.”

This is exactly what Ackey is doing — helping young men and women in West Africa. In July 2011, he opened a combined middle and high school in Niger, his wife’s homeland, where four seventh graders and five eighth graders are enrolled in the International Academy of Niamey. His goal is 50 students — and the need is there — but the funds are not. He has a board of directors helping advise him, but he does most everything else on his own.

The students at the International Academy of Niamey receive all school supplies for free, some pay a subsidized tuition of $100 (regularly $600 a year), and two are on full scholarship.

The literacy rate in Niger is 28.7 percent, according to the Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook, with an average of five years spent in school. While some improvements are being made in the country’s education system with help from the World Bank and the French government, much remains to be done. Costs for school supplies become difficult for most families, 63 percent of which live below the poverty line.

One of Ackey’s students, 11-year-old Lea, is being raised by a single mom since her father passed away. Her mother wasn’t able to afford school supplies for Lea so was going to forgo enrolling her and instead help sell items in the market to contribute money to the household. Ackey’s organization offered her a full scholarship, and Lea now lives with a host family during the school year.

“It can be stressful spending all this time and money, but looking at the end result does nothing but encourage me and put a smile on my face,” Ackey said. “Look at the alternative — the end of education for girls like Lea. That’s what motivates me to do it.”

It costs about $50,000 a year to run the International Academy of Niamey at full capacity, and what the school lacks in fundraising Ackey makes up for out of his own pocket. He raised about $4,000 this summer at an annual fundraiser at HCC, where he teaches accounting in addition to his full-time work at Citigroup.

He’s hoping to attract more people to help with the effort and to one day open Africa International University, a feeder for his graduating high school students. The students are on the right path — they had a 100 percent success rate on their national exam, compared with the national 50 percent pass rate.

“We made it our goal to get the best administrators and teachers,” said Ackey, of the school focused on technology and the English language.

“I love teaching. I love to learn,” Ackey said. “Eventually, I’d like to return and run the school. It’s my passion, and I can only fully execute my vision by being there. And there’s nothing more gratifying than teaching.” 

Visit Ackey's Gobal Giving page for more information on on the International Academy of Niamey.

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