© 2024 Western New York Public Broadcasting Association

140 Lower Terrace
Buffalo, NY 14202

Mailing Address:
Horizons Plaza P.O. Box 1263
Buffalo, NY 14240-1263

Buffalo Toronto Public Media | Phone 716-845-7000
WBFO Newsroom | Phone: 716-845-7040
Your NPR Station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Commentary: EduNation's Founding Fathers Answering Ishmael Beah's Call

By Peter Ciotta

Buffalo, NY – Looking back, I never imagined Ishmael Beah's words would stay with me this long...

And I certainly never thought that his simple, but poignant call for us to "to do something" for the children of Sierra Leone would have any connection to Father's day 2008.

Yet, as June 15th approaches, I find myself thinking that a most meaningful way to give thanks for the blessings of my own children -- Melina, Elena, and Peter John -- is indeed to try to "do something" to answer Beah's call.

Beah is the author of "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier."

The book was a UB Reads selection, and ultimately brought Beah to the University last October as a Distinguished Speaker

A native of Sierra Leone, Beah told us about how his childhood was ended abruptly by civil war and the deaths of his parents and two brothers.

At the age of 13, he became a child soldier and was forced by circumstances to commit unspeakable killings.

Yet, despite these desperate circumstances, Beah was fortunate to be adopted and brought to the United States where he eventually graduated from the United Nations International School in Manhattan and Oberlin College.

During an impassioned dialogue last October at the UB Alumni Arena, Beah spoke about the important role of education in his life after escaping conflict in Sierra Leone.

Here's how the UB Reporter quoted his words...

"Most of the kids that survived this war, the only difference between myself and them was that I've been able to gain an education that exposed me and opened up my world to what I'm capable of," he said, pointing out that many children taken from combat become frustrated after rehabilitation because they're unable to reclaim a sense of purpose in life.

"Getting an education was an empowerment that I received," he said.

Thanks to the efforts of a new Buffalo-based non-profit group called EduNations, I, and hundreds of others, will get a chance to respond to Beah's call for action.

EduNation's has been founded by a group of fathers living and working in Western New York including Ken Krieger, a school psychologist at the Niagara Falls City School District, Ken Houseknecht, vice president of communications and investor relations at Gibraltar Industries; Mike Bader, vice president at Sanderson & Co. Investment Consultants LLC; and Rick Kennedy, a partner in Hodgson Russ LLP. Dr. Dean Weaver, Senior Pastor of Memorial Park Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, is also a founder.

Working together, these men are devoted to building schools to make education free and accessible to children who otherwise would not receive one.

While the opportunity for education is available for every child here in Buffalo, It is exactly the opposite in Ishmael Beah's Sierra Leone home.

There, a family will sacrifice everything so their child can attend school.

They will go without food, or their children are forced into prostitution or become petty thieves to pay school fees. The founding fathers behind EduNation's are trying to change this. For just $25,000, a school can be built to serve 240 pupils in remote areas.

To sustain a school for a year it takes just $20,000 to cover teachers' salaries, school supplies, and one hot meal per day per student with take-home portions for their families.

The fathers behind EduNations realized early on that it could not achieve its goals on its own, nor was it necessary to duplicate the works of other organizations.

So, they have developed partnerships to help see their mission unfold with trusted, reputable in-country allies such as World Hope, Compassion in Action Ministries, and Transformation Education providing them the with resources they need on the ground.

On June 13 at 6 PM, EduNations will host a Friend and Fundraiser at Babeville, the Asbury Methodist Church on Delaware Avenue that has been beautifully restored by Ani DiFranco. The event's primary purpose is to help fulfill a commitment made last year to raise another $50,000 to build two more schools.

The event is free and will include food, drink, song and inspiring words. All are welcome. More information is available at moreinfo@edunations.org or 380-6076. Nearly all funds raised will be redirected back to the effort in Africa.

EduNations has no paid staff -- just a group of committed volunteer dads doing "something" on the Friday before Father's day.

I think this is what Ishmael Beah was looking for.

Listener-Commentator Peter Ciotta is director of corporate communications at Gibraltar Steel.

Click the "listen" icon above to hear the commentary now or use your podcasting software to download it to your computer or iPod.