Retired educator Liz Akano rebuilds her childhood school in Nigeria

Liz Akano

A retired London, Ontario, teacher and vice principal is travelling to her native Nigeria this week for the grand re-opening of her childhood elementary school. 

Liz Akano runs a non-profit called Educate the Children, where she has been raising money for nearly two decades to rebuild the school.

“I went home to visit my home country in Nigeria and my village, and the elementary school that I attended as a little girl was horrible. Leaky roof, fallen walls, the floor was flooded by water, no desks, no chairs. Students carried their desk on their head when they were going to school,” recalls Akano of her 2003 visit.

“It brought tears to my eyes like I couldn’t believe, and I didn’t know that it was still being used until I saw the students going into this school.”

That visit was the catalyst for Educate the Children, which she founded in 2005. Since then, Akano has raised enough money to rebuild the school, with 16 classrooms and 12 bathroom stalls. The new school will serve about 450 students.

With the classroom block complete, Akano says next year they will start the foundation for an administrative block that will be the home of a future library.

During her career with the Thames Valley District School Board, Akano was an advocate for Black student success. She started Black Student Associations at schools she worked in, including Sir Wilfred Laurier Secondary School and Saunders Secondary School. She said there are now seven Black Student Associations across the Thames Valley board, which are instrumental in encouraging students to pursue a post-secondary education. 

Akano was also an organizer for London’s first Black student conference, which saw more than 230 Black students come together on May 31 of this year to talk about their personal challenges and hear from community leaders about furthering their education.

Akano was honoured with a Humanitarian Award at the Black Excellence Awards on Dec. 10 for her creating the high school programs and establishing Educate the Children. 

The grandmother of 11 will be on hand for the grand re-opening of the school in Nigeria on Thursday, Dec. 29.

“I can’t wait to see the faces of the of those students and the teachers and the community members,” she said.