Building a Dream: Teacher builds school in Sierra Leone

By Kathleen Mills | IU Alumni Magazine (Summer 2014)

Saturday, June 14, 2014

In his 27-year career as a high school science teacher in Fort Wayne, Ind., Francis Mustapha, MA’73, EdS’79, grew accustomed to cajoling apathetic teenagers into finishing their schoolwork.

Francis Mustapha
Francis Mustapha

The story is quite different in the small village in Sierra Leone where Mustapha was born. Ninety percent of the children have never been to school before. During his award-winning teaching career in Indiana, Mustapha—who came to the U.S. for college at age 18—was always thinking ahead to the day he would return to Madina and start a school. He had seen firsthand the power of education to create opportunity. For him, education “came to mean life.”

“When I stepped into [the United States] that was always my goal, but it took 40 years,” says Mustapha, speaking by phone from Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Fundraising for the effort took years, and then, in 1994, when Mustapha was ready to build, Sierra Leone’s 10-year civil war began. Mustapha put his plans on hold but never abandoned them. Finally, in 2013, the school opened its doors.

Students at Madina Village School in Sierra Leone
Before Madina Village School, 75 percent of the students had never been to school.

Today the Madina Village School has 270 students; more had to be turned away. “That was the hardest part,” he says. The school could allow for larger class sizes, but Mustapha wants to keep each class to 30 pupils or fewer.

Sierra Leone has long been beset by poverty; however, nearly half of Sierra Leone’s population is under the age of 18, so Mustapha believes that educating them can change the course of the country’s future. But he does worry about the impact of his small school. “What I’m doing here, I often wonder if it’s going to make a difference or if it’s just a drop in the bucket,” he says.

Mustapha hopes one day the locals of Madina will run the school without his guidance and the funds provided by Fort Wayne area churches and civic organizations. The national Sierra Leone government isn’t doing much to help education, Mustapha says. “There is so much corruption. How do you change it? You target the future; you give these kids a way in.”


Kathleen Mills, BA’88, MS’00, teaches advanced placement English and journalism at Bloomington (Ind.) High School South. Her freelance work has appeared in The New York Times.


Watch a video and read more about Mustapha and the Madina Village School in the News Channel 15 article: African school with local ties nearly complete with first year.