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Hoping for 'new beginning,' Park grad starts education foundation

Park High School graduate Sheka Mansaray returned to his alma mater last week to speak to students about a foundation he started to improve education in his native Sierra Leone. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente

Sheka Mansaray is not one man out to save the world. He just wants improve one country 50 students at a time.

Mansaray, a 2007 Park High School graduate, said education has created many opportunities for him, and now he hopes to do the same for young people in his native Sierra Leone. The 21-year-old Minnesota State University-Mankato student started a foundation this year to raise money to fund a new education venture for youths in the west African country.

The initiative is called "50strong 50wise" and Mansaray's goal is to raise $10,000 by the end of 2011. That would fund two years of schooling for 50 youths chosen from throughout the country.

Education options are limited in parts of Sierra Leone, and resources - from classroom materials to food - often are scarce.

"Basically, we're trying to lift up their education - 50 students at a time," Mansaray said in a recent interview.

There is significance to the 50-student effort: Sierra Leone is celebrating its 50th year of independence.

As he builds awareness for the budding foundation, Mansaray found himself back in the halls of Park High last week. He was a guest speaker during the school's Diversity Day, and tried to impress upon current students the importance of taking advantage of the school opportunities they are afforded.

"Hold on to your education because it's going to take you far," said Mansaray, who sees graduate school in his future followed by a career as an English teacher working in both the United States and Sierra Leone.

Mansaray's own life story is gripping. He was raised in Sierra Leone, but after his father was killed he left the civil war-torn country in 1998. His mother stayed behind, and Mansaray lived with an aunt in Cottage Grove, attending elementary school and junior high before going to Park.

In January, Mansaray returned to Sierra Leone for the first time in 12 years. He reconnected with his mother and spent time traveling the country and visiting schools. What he saw inspired him to start the education initiative. He envisions students from different regions of the country being selected to attend school in Freetown, the capital. After receiving a quality education, those students could be the country's future leaders, Mansaray hopes.

"They will somehow go back to their town and manifest a new beginning," he said.

Standing in the main hallway at Park recently, Mansaray said he is proud of his educational accomplishments and is optimistic his new initiative will help students in Sierra Leone.

"When I was here," he said of attending Park, "I was pretty ambitious. I still feel like I have that drive and goal."

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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