Utah families build school in Africa, inspire others

Tuesday , March 20, 2018 - 5:00 AM1 comment

One South Ogden family’s effort to build a three-room middle school for some of Africa’s most impoverished kids has led others to support their efforts and start two other schools themselves.

The Cliff and Nita Bailey school in Beneko, Mali, is going on its eighth year.

“They would go all day without food,” said Mike King, one of the family members behind the effort.

Before the school was built eight years ago, children who had to attend school in another village 10 miles away would spend all day walking each way to study on empty stomachs, King said.

The family was able to fund the school through donations to the Mali Rising Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to providing schools in Mali, one of the poorest areas of the world.

Northern Utah residents funded the books and supplies for the school, King said.

“We started the school and had the support of amazing, loving friends,” King said. “People stepped up and did their part. They are the amazing ones. They came to help out and they ended up doing more. It just amazes me.”

The project has inspired others to start two other schools in Mali.

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“I can’t think about their sacrifices without being emotional,” King said. “It’s just amazing what these people have done.”

Mike and Bonnie King of South Ogden first became aware of the extreme poverty in areas of Africa when picking up their son from a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Capetown, South Africa, in 2007.  

The next year, Mike King and his son, Cliff King, were invited back by some dentists who were going to Mali to donate needed dental care.

Asked to provide security for the dentists, not only did Mike King end up pulling some teeth, but he also developed an affinity for the people and a realization of their extreme needs.

“They make do with absolutely everything,” Bonnie King said, noting that the average income for villagers is less than $300 a year. “They make plates and dishes out of old metal.”

Watching as the villagers chewed on sticks to brush their teeth, got her family to start to understand the needs of the people, she said.

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The families that joined the Kings in organizing and building the school spent the next year planning and constructing. The school opened in January 2010.

Besides the Kings, also funding the school were Mike’s mother, Louise Curry of Ogden; her late brother and sister-in-law, Jay and Suzie Bailey of Layton; and Curry’s sister Gwila Despain, of Salt Lake City. 

They were able to build the school for about half of what a similar building would cost in Ogden.

“My employer donated seven computers and another friend donated a projector,” King said. “Within a year, we’d received enough donations to install solar energy in Beneko and six other surrounding village schools.”

Asked to oversee construction and install solar panels was Scott Dixon of Uintah.

A contractor and president of Stacey Enterprises in Ogden, Dixon and his family donated solar equipment, labor, time and travel to get to Beneko to finish the building he had overseen and install the panels.

“It was great to see what a few lights in a three-room building for classrooms could do for them to be able to have classes at night and utilize that resource of energy,” Dixon said. “We had a TV we connected and played some videos. It was amazing to see people who had never seen that before.”

Dixon also returned to build a school funded by his own family.

“Helping them to have a structure that really becomes a focal point of those villages is meaningful,” Dixon said. “We see them gain an education and try to gain the resources that will step them out of that poverty.”

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The Kings and Dixons partnered with Mali Rising Foundation to coordinate with government leaders in funding teachers and maintaining the structures.

“By having a school in the village, children who are needed on family farms can now focus on education for part of the day,” King said.

A third school came about when a Mali man who lives in a nearby village, Koro, near Dogon Country, was hired by the Kings to maintain the solar panels at their school.

This effort opened up other opportunities to Ibrahima Kodio, giving him enough resources to build a school.

“I think the main goal, why we are on Earth, is serving the community, serving those in need,” Kodio said in a telephone interview. “It doesn’t matter what church we belong to, we are called to serve the community and each other.”

With the growth to 80 students over the last eight years at the Beneko school, the Kings now are working to supply the school with its second set of school books to meet increased needs.

“Over the past two to three years, we’ve seen a change in parental attitudes regarding school attendance,” Mike King said, noting that the school opened with just a handful of students. 

“To avoid family conflicts, we facilitate a shortened school day during farming season so the children can help with farms and other duties,” Mike King said. “The school children are becoming an asset to the village leaders, writing letters, reading correspondence, etc., proving that education is valuable.”

Last year, every child in the Beneko school passed the national graduation exams while only 50 percent passed countrywide, King said.

Efforts in 2017 included recruiting more female students, something that isn’t the norm.

“We’ve seen success and have the largest number of girls attending than ever before,” King said.

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In the last two months, the King’s have raised about $10,000 from among their friends and family to pay for books. They are hoping to raise a few thousand more dollars.

They have told their friends that $165 pays for one student’s complete set of books for the school year and these books are passed down to other students in the years to come.

Those interested in donating online for school books may visit the Mali Rising Foundation website, malirisingfdn.kindful.com. Click on a window that asks to select a campaign and choose the last option, “books for Beneko!”

You may reach reporter JaNae Francis at jfrancis@standard.net or 801-625-4228. Follow her on Twitter at @JaNaeFrancisSE or on Facebook at Facebook.com/SEJaNaeFrancis.



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