Igali fulfills dream by opening school in Nigerian village

Nov 03, 2005, vol. 34, no. 6
By Marianne Meadahl

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The school that Daniel Igali dreamed about for his village will be officially opened early in the new year, now that the building is complete.

Igali leaves in two weeks to spend the rest of the year in Eniwari, Nigeria, meeting with government officials to discuss how the school will be managed and taking the opportunity to “have a hand in every little detail” before its classrooms are open for learning.

“We are still working on getting computers and some basic supplies, as well as some finishing work, but the facility has been built and it is so exciting to know that classes will be happening before long,” he says.

Igali says the school, named Maureen Matheny academy, after his late friend and surrogate mother, will be the first of its kind in Nigeria and will be run through a partnership between the local government and the Igali foundation. He plans to stay involved in the school's development and oversee its mission to provide a solid education for children, a place for community interaction and a training ground for both boys and girls in wrestling and other sports.

“That will be an important component of the school, that all children have an opportunity to grow and develop in this sport and recreational athletics,” says the Olympic champion wrestler.

The school contains 11 classrooms, a gymnasium, an auditorium, a library, computer room, a six-room accommodation complex and an administrative block.

Igali will return to Nigeria in January. An entourage of officials, friends and media will accompany him to the opening, expected to happen before March.

The school has remained a key focus even during his second run at a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics, a hectic political campaign schedule while running in last spring's provincial election, and as he continues to find time to complete his master of arts degree in criminology at SFU, something he hopes will happen by next fall. Igali also keeps up a rigid training schedule and volunteers with the coaching crew at SFU wrestling and the Big Brothers program.

Igali returned on Oct. 18 from a goodwill visit to Afghanistan, where he joined a dozen other Canadians, including hockey legend Guy LaFleur and national speed skater Catriona Lemay Doan, for a week's tour of Kandahar and Kabul.

The trip was organized by the department of national defence and was led by defence minister Bill Graham and chief of defence staff General Rick Hillier.

The group had a firsthand look at the work of Canadian troops, who had been the target of a failed suicide bombing attempt the day before they arrived. They went on foot and vehicle patrols, dressed in military clothing, and travelled between regions by Chinook helicopters.

They also played hockey and soccer with the troops. “It was quite an experience, even for an athlete,” Igali notes, adding that he also spoke with Afghanis who feel their lives have changed for the better, despite the fact that pockets of Taliban loyalists remain. Igali's impressions will be featured in an upcoming SFU News opinion piece.

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