HLHS graduate expanding educational opportunities at private African school
Eno is part owner of a private school in Nouakchott, Mauritania, a city of about 1.5 million people located on Africa’s western coast. The 1992 Houghton Lake High School graduate teaches kindrgarten at the school she co-founded in 2005, the TLC International School.
Following her graduation from St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, IN, in 1996 with a degree in international business, Eno decided to join the Peace Corps. She had been an exchange student in France while in college, she said, and she “wanted to do some more traveling.”
A few months after arriving for her two-year stay as a Corps member in Mauritania, she met her future husband, Sidi Boidaha. The two were married in July, 1998, in Nouadhibou, Mauritania, after she completed her Peace Corps duty.
After completing her service, Eno and her husband moved to northern Virginia. She worked for the U.S. Aid Project in Washington, D.C., helping African companies do business with American companies. Her husband worked for the Hyatt Hotel chain. The couple had three children, Ely, 9, Mariem, 6, and Amira, 3, all born in the U.S.
“Once we had children it was more difficult,” Eno said, to manage work and family. She said she traveled so often for her job that by Ely’s first birthday he had been on 20 trips with her.
So she and her husband sold their home and moved back to Mauritania, she said, “for a slower pace.”
Later she teamed up with a friend she had met while in Washington, D.C., Donna Hammond of Florida, to improve educational opportunities in Mauritania.
“Let’s start a school,” she suggested to Hammond.
They founded the school, she said, because the only alternative in Mauritania was an expensive school intended only for diplomats’ children. Typical African schools, she said, are bare oneroom schools with large class sizes.
At her school the kids can paint and play in brightly colored rooms. They can read Western books like the Harry Potter series and play with water in the sandy playground.
“It’s not like anything they’ve had before,” she said.
Eno and Hammond rented and renovated a building and had furniture shipped overseas in large shipping containers.
“Neither of us are independently wealthy,” she said.
In the beginning – six years ago now – they called the school The Learning Center. It had just 15 students. The school featured a preschool program with an American curriculum. Eno recruited certified American teachers, even though certification is not required by the Mauritanian government. The classes are taught in English, she said, but French and Arabic language classes are offered.
The school has grown in the few years since it began. The highest grade taught there was fourth grade, but now students up to 12th grade will attend. On-line classes through the University of Nebraska will be offered to the high school classes.
Eno said when she goes back in a couple of weeks she will see the completion of the new school building.
After her five-year lease was up in 2010, she had to decide whether to close the school or expand, she said. A parent of one of her students is a builder, she said, and he stepped in and they reached a rent-to-own agreement.
“He designed [the new school] with his architect,” she said.
Usually things move more slowly in Africa, she said, and some Mauritanians have commented on how quickly the school is coming together.
“He has his kids – he wants it done,” she said of the builder.
This summer’s visit to Houghton Lake to see her parents, Ron and Kathy, will be cut short because she has to tend to business. She usually spends two months stateside, but will go back to 120-degree weather – “It’s hot,” she said – Aug. 8. Until school starts Sept. 7, she said, her husband has been “holding down the fort” in Mauritania. He works for an auto parts shop and works with a mining exploration company.
Eno said she will have three more teachers, for a total of nine (six of them American), and hopefully more students when the new building opens.
“I’m not sure of the number of students we will have,” she said.
Hammond will teach math and science and is working on the reports necessary to get the school accredited.
Parents write to her about the success of her former students, some who have transferred to schools in France, Serbia, Sudan, Australia and Egypt. Expecting perhaps lower-achieving students, the other schools are surprised her former pupils are working above grade level, she said.
While the TLC International School is cheaper than the U.S. Embassy school, Eno said, students can receive scholarships to cover the $4,000 per year tuition.
“I volunteer,” she said. “I don’t take a salary.”
Eno said she obtains used supplies from her mom and her sister, Beth, who are both in education. She also takes advantage of book sales at the Houghton Lake Public Library. While most of her students speak Arabic, they seem to pick up English well.
“Kids are really quick,” she said about learning multiple languages at an early age. “They really enjoy school.”
Anyone interested in becoming pen pals with the students at TLC International School or making donations to the school may e-mail Eno at email@example.com. The school is also on Facebook.