TMC GRAD REBUILDS INSTITUTE IN LIBERIA
Olu Quaity Menjay graduated from Truett-McConnell College in 1993, and now, more than a decade later, finds himself engaged in the long-term project of rebuilding the Ricks Institute near the capital city of Monrovia in his native country of Liberia in West Africa.
Menjay, whose middle name in his native Sarpo language means “humble,” is appropriately named, for he was an excellent student at Truett-McConnell who modeled humility. When he graduated from high school at Suehn Mission School, Menjay fled Liberia and at age 18, arrived in the Ivory Coast. The next year he enrolled in Truett-McConnell College to study to become a Baptist minister. Eventually his studies led him to enroll in Boston University in 2001 to do further study in theology, from which he earned a master’s degree in sacred theology in 2004.
In the early months of 2005 Olu Menjay accepted the job as principal of Ricks Institute, once a prestigious boarding school in Liberia that was damaged almost beyond reclamation by the 14-year civil war that raged in Liberia in the 1980s and 1990s. The conflict killed an estimated 250,000 people and left Ricks Institute in shambles—rows of shacks holding thousands of displaced people on school grounds and the empty shells of dormitories ravaged by years of civil war.
The Ricks Institute was founded by Baptist missionaries in 1887 and was a coeducational, elite boarding school, housing about 650 students and staff before the civil war began. During the conflict fighting frequently raged on the school grounds, closing down the school. After the fighting had moved on to other locations, approximately 30,000 homeless Liberians moved onto school land, and the school could barely exist. But since the end of the civil war in 2003, the school has been open continuously, despite the fact that its infrastructure was in ruins.
So, when Olu Menjay accepted the position of principal of the Ricks Institute in 2005, it was with reluctance because the school had to be virtually rebuilt from the ground up. He and his wife live on the campus and work almost around the clock, raising money to rebuild and doing much of the work themselves. Since civil war left the Liberian economy in shambles, most of the money for rebuilding must come from other places. During the past year, 95% of the school’s funding was provided by Americans.
The Ricks Institute now has 330 students enrolled from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Menjay says: “I keep asking myself, ‘What is the essence of being here? Is it more helpful being here than in the States?’ It’s not an easy walk. But I am reaching more people here. It’s a calling….” Olu Menjay is equal to the calling.
Some information for this piece came from an article by John Donnelly in The Boston Globe on June 12, 2006.