When he was growing up in Nigeria, Emmanuel Okenye, OMS III, says his family’s grocery money was often spent on his and his siblings’ schooling. Okenye vowed that if he got into college someday, he would find a way to help kids living in poverty go to school.
Okenye’s dream came true in July 2013 when he opened Veritas Academy in Ikorodu, Nigeria. In this edited interview, Okenye shares how he balances being a student at the Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine (LMU-DCOM) in Harrogate, Tennessee, with managing the school he founded a continent away.
Paying for school in Nigeria is a major challenge. Through sponsors, I was able to come to the U.S. at age 16 to attend Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. After graduation, I worked as a chemist and saved money to start a school. I opened Veritas Academy a month before I went to medical school. I found a building to rent and hired a few teachers who felt the school provided a good opportunity to give back.
I paid for the students’ books, uniforms, stationery and lab supplies for science class. Besides our core 15 students, we also support about 25 children who live too far away to attend our school. They take classes closer to their homes.
My mom supervises the day-to-day operations of the school. Given the time difference, I call in at 4 a.m. to talk to the teachers and answer any questions. These calls help me stay motivated about the cause. The children are beginning to have dreams, like becoming doctors or teachers.
At first I didn’t tell my peers about Veritas Academy because I was afraid they would find it odd I run a school in Nigeria. One day after an early-morning call, I was late for a meeting with associate professor Natalie Langley, PhD. When I explained my tardiness, she was very supportive and alleviated my concerns about sharing my news. She even thought people would want to support this cause.
She was right. When my classmates learned about the academy, they asked how they could help. I started a corresponding nonprofit, Child Scholars. Even though my wife, Kaylee, and I still support the school with our personal funds, Child Scholars fundraisers have raised thousands of dollars in additional support.
Serving the underserved
When people ask me why I run a school in Nigeria, I explain that you can bring medication to people on a mission trip, but if they lack education on the basics like washing their hands, they will continue to struggle with the same illnesses. We need to sustain health care with education.
Building the future
I attend medical school in an underserved area, and I can see that child poverty is a universal problem. LMU-DCOM reaches out to underserved kids with wellness programs.
My goal is to go back to Nigeria next summer with my professors and fellow students to do similar wellness programs that will include CPR training, glucose screenings and general health education at Veritas Academy. I would also like to include instruction in computer literacy at the school so students can function globally. When I first came to the U.S., I couldn’t even type a paper. Eventually, I also would like to raise enough funds to construct a new school building.
I would also love to do a surgery residency and perform surgery on future medical mission trips.