Dr. Segun Ige, President and Founder of Anike Foundation, was interviewed by Masrawy, Egypt’s first and biggest news portal, about his efforts to promote African literacy. The following is an English translation of the interview. For the original interview in Arabic, (Click Here)
An interview with Dr. Segun Ige about his efforts to promote African literacy
By Sara Arafa and Eshraq Ahmed, Masrawy News Portal
Segun Ige has had a dream in the forefront of his mind since 2007. He wants to enable every child in Africa to read. Ige, a Nigerian, found that the only way to reach his dream was determination. His mother, Marian Anike, was his inspiration. She was the reason he and his sister were able to complete their education. She moved around Nigeria to support their education, although she was deprived of it. She was his guiding light to complete his education under very difficult circumstances, until he got his PhD in Mechanic Engineering and settled in the USA. But he never forgot his home and what his mother did for him to become what he is now. So he decided to pay the favor to his homeland and his mother too. He established Anike Foundation to develop education.
The institution, based in America, does not receive funds or official support from any international institutions or even governments, which makes it unique. It works as a mediator, convoys developed countries’ surplus to the most vulnerable parts of Africa. Its mission is not only to increase literacy of people, but also to teach people about the continent. He explained in an interview with Masrawy via email the goals and roles of Anike Foundation. He also talked about education problems in impoverished Africa and his dreams for the institution.
Sara Arafa and Eshraq Ahmed: When did Anike start its activities, and what does the name refer to?
Dr. Segun Ige: Anike Foundation was established as a Massachusetts nonprofit corporation on February 3, 2007, and it was founded in honor of the late Mrs. Marian Anike Gbenro, my mother, a woman who was responsible directly or indirectly for the education of many generations of Africans, including my own.
SA/EA: How did you have the idea of establishing a foundation for education?
SI: I was born and raised in Africa in circumstances very similar to those people that Anike Foundation is trying to help today. I left Nigeria upon receiving a scholarship from Shell-BP to study in the UK. From the UK, I left for the US for graduate studies and, after graduating, worked for General Electric and other successful high-technology companies. Throughout my stay abroad, I have remained in touch with my African roots and traveled back to Africa many times. During these trips, I was always saddened by the wide disparity in educational opportunities between the US, where I worked, and Africa.
On one such trip to Africa, I found my aging mother had neatly organized my books, dating back to my elementary school days. This act of selflessness from my mother reminded me of how much I owed her for everything I had accomplished. It was then and there that I had an “epiphany” to establish a foundation in her name to recognize her for what she did for me and to do the same for more Africans on a larger scale.
SA/EA: Can you explain the education situation in Africa?
SI: Although Africa is one of the largest continents in the world, it remains, by far, the least literate. Nowhere is this more visible than in sub-Saharan Africa. The following statistical facts on sub-Saharan Africa, taken from the African Library Project, put this problem in perspective:
• More than 1 in 3 adults cannot read
• 182 million adults are unable to read and write
• 48 million youths (ages 15-24) are illiterate
• 22% of primary aged children are not in school
• That makes 30 million primary aged children who are not in school.
SA/EA: In your view, how does Anike help improve the situation in Africa?
SI: Anike Foundation is a relatively small and young organization in comparison to much bigger and better funded organizations such as the Bill Gates, Ford and Rockefeller Foundations. What makes Anike Foundation uniquely different from these organizations is that we work directly with grassroots African NGOs and accredited institutions of learning, thereby leveraging our limited resources.
SA/EA: Can you describe in more detail how Anike is helping to improve education in Africa?
SI: Our mission at Anike Foundation is two-pronged. The first part is very simple: we take educational resources from developed countries where they are plentiful, and distribute them to needy institutions in Africa. These resources include educational books, magazines, computers, laptops, computer peripherals and other learning tools.
The second part comes from our belief that education is a two-way affair. Just as we are helping to educate illiterate Africans, we believe in educating the rest of the world about Africa. To this end, we have allotted a section of our website, called Explore Africa, to useful information about Africa for Africans and non-Africans alike. The topics range from African History to African Literature to African Entertainment. We believe that by exposing a lot of people to information about Africa, they will understand Africa better and would be more likely to contribute to the education of Africans.
SA/EA: Do you cover all African countries or Arab countries are excluded?
SI: Yes, we cover all African countries, including Arab countries. The reason we currently do not have any partner organization from an Arab country is that none has approached us yet. However, we are confident that will change soon.
SA/EA: Do you have any activities in Egypt?
SI: We currently do not have any activities in Egypt. However, once we find suitable Egyptian organizations to partner with, we would commence activities in Egypt.
SA/EA: Where is your main office? How many branches do you have, and where?
SI: Our home office is in West Boylston, Massachusetts, USA. However, we are highly decentralized in our operation, relying extensively on the facilities of our partner organizations in Africa. We have partner organizations in twenty African countries to date.
SA/EA: What are the criteria of choosing countries to deal with?
SI: We do not choose organizations we deal with based on their countries. The sole criterion for organizations we form partnerships with is that the organizations’ mission and objectives are aligned with ours.
SA/EA: How many individuals are working for Anike (volunteers and paid)?
SI: We currently have about thirty officers and volunteers working for Anike Foundation.
SA/EA: You talked about your mother. Can you tell us more about her? How did she affect your education?
SI: As a young girl, my mother attended elementary school. However, after elementary school, she was forced to halt her education in order to help the family at home. In those days, it was customary for girls in Nigeria to help their parents at home with house chores. Thus, although my mother was sufficiently intelligent to proceed to secondary school and college, she stopped after only elementary education.
The second momentous event in my mother’s life was that she and her husband (our dad) separated before I was born. Thus she became a single mother of three (my two older sisters and me).
After she left school, my mother became a tailoring apprentice, where she learned to sew women’s clothing. It was with the meager amount of money that she made from her sewing business that she raised my sisters and me and sent us to school. The easier thing for her to do would have been to do as her parents did: keep us at home to help her with chores rather than send us to school. However, because she recognized the value of education, she was determined to send us all to school no matter what it took, and my oldest sister was the first to enter Teachers’ Training College – fortunately for our family.
SA/EA: What do you remember most about your mother?
SI: Some of my earliest recollections were of my mother dressing me up for school at the age of six, handing me my slate (that was what we wrote on in school in those days) and sending me on my way to my first year in elementary school. When I returned from school, my mother made sure I stayed home to do my homework rather than run around on the streets playing soccer as many of the other kids did. Of course, I hated that at the time but now, when I look back, I realize that was one of the most influential events in my life because that routine inculcated in me a desire to study that remains with me until today.
SA/EA: Did you receive any help in continuing your studies, other than from your mother’s work?
SI: There was a turning point, when I finished elementary school and was potentially ready to go to college. At that time, we were living in Oyo Town in Oyo State, Nigeria. In those days in Nigeria, the states were relatively autonomous. Thus, Southern states, such as Oyo State, had high secondary school fees because they did not subsidize their students’ fees whereas Northern States, such as Kwara State, which happened to be my mother’s state of origin, had lower secondary school fees because the state governments highly subsidized the school fees.
As I entered my final year of elementary school, it was clear that my mother could not afford to send me to secondary school. Neither could my oldest sister who, by that time, had graduated from Teachers’ College, married and had been primarily responsible for my elementary school.
It was at that time that my mother came up with what I could only describe as a stroke of genius. Realizing that going to high school in Oyo State was a non-starter, my mother decided to move with me from Oyo Town to Ilorin in her home state, Kwara State, thereby granting me access to the highly-subsidized and, thus, affordable, fees of Kwara State secondary schools. I thus proceeded to attend the last year of elementary school in Kwara State and, hence, found my way into a Kwaran secondary school. My schooling would have ended after elementary school if my mother had not decided to move us back to Kwara State just for me. Needless to say, I would not be where I am today.
SA/EA: How were you able to study in England?
SI: I was fortunate to attend one of the best schools of higher education in Nigeria – Federal Government College, Warri. In those days, Shell-BP Nigeria used to hold a nationwide competition among all seniors in schools of higher education, at the end of which they selected a few to go to college in the UK under a Shell-BP scholarship. I was one of five students selected from the entire field of students in Nigeria after such a competition to study in the UK.
SA/EA: You said that you have a PhD. Can you speak more about your career?
SI: I received my Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering from Imperial College, London. I got my PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). My specialty was superconductor magnets. From MIT, I got a job with GE Medical Systems (now GE Healthcare) in Florence, South Carolina. There I worked on the team that developed GE’s first actively shielded MRI magnet and the world’s first cryogen-free MRI magnet.
From GE I went to work for American Superconductor (AMSC) in Westborough, Massachusetts. There I was program manager of a $100 million superconductive ship propulsion program. It was at AMSC that I matured as a leader and program manager. The tools I acquired and the experience I gained at AMSC were instrumental in giving me the confidence to launch Anike Foundation. I am currently the Director of Magnet Engineering at Mevion Medical Systems, a company that has developed a compact proton-beam machine for treating cancer.
SA/EA: Getting back to Anike, what are its most prominent achievements?
SI: We measure our achievements by the people of Africa whose lives we affect. Some of our achievements include:
• Distribution of computers and other educational tools to schools in the Volta region of Ghana
• Launching of a Multimedia Resource Center in Cameroon
• Since its construction several years ago, thousands of students have used the toilet facility that Anike Foundation constructed for Maanyi Parents’ Primary School in Uganda
• Training of Cameroonian farmers in beekeeping
• Hundreds of Nigerian pupils received exercise books last year, and
• Hundreds of people have passed through the YOCOFOBA-Anike Foundation Multi-Media Resource Center in Cameroon.
SA/EA: Does your foundation receive any help from corporations, international institutes like UNESCO, or governments of countries you deal with?
SI: We currently do not receive funding from UNESCO or governments of the countries we operate in. However, we welcome any organizations that share our mission and objectives to partner with us.
SA/EA: On Anike’s official website you asked for donations. Which countries donate the most? Are the donations only money, or learning materials as well?
SI: Most of our donations come from the US. The donations we receive include money as well as learning materials.
SA/EA: What are your dreams and ambitions for Anike?
SI: I have two long-range goals for Anike Foundation:
1) Have at least one partner organization in every African country by the year 2020.
2) We are currently limited by our financial resources. Our hope is that, as we grow, we would attract more and more corporate donors to the extent that, by 2020, we would be a multi-million dollar operation.