The parents of a boy killed two years ago during a school field trip in St. Paul say they will build a school in West Africa in his honor.
Fourth-graders Haysem Sani and Mohamed Fofana died and two other children were injured when part of a Mississippi River bluff collapsed on them as they hunted for fossils in Lilydale Regional Park with classmates from Peter Hobart Elementary school in St. Louis Park.
In the heartbreaking task of going through his belongings, Mohamed's mother discovered a journal where the 10-year-old wrote about what he'd do if he were president.
"'I would do everything, and I would give money so school kids can read. And I would give money to the poor people. I would build soccer fields for schools to play in,'" Madosu Kanneh, Mohamed's mother, said as she read Mohamed's words Wednesday from the small, handmade book on her dining room table.
She said the boy had been to visit his father's hometown in Guinea in 2010. He found kids without clothes, playing soccer barefoot in town. He recounted the trip for a school project.
His writing inspired his family to make something good of his tragic death.
Mohamed's father, Lancine Fofana, has just returned from West Africa where they laid a cornerstone this month for a school that will teach as many as 400 children in Siguiri, a small gold mining town in northern Guinea. The town doesn't have a school now and parents must send their children away if they want them to have an education.
The family is using part of their share of a more than $1 million settlement paid to the families of the children involved. "The settlement money goes straight to the project," Lancine Fofana said.
There will be a soccer field, a basketball court and a library. Mohamed's family has established a nonprofit foundation here in the U.S. to help organize and fund the effort.
Costs for the initial phase are expected to run between $150,000 and $200,000 said Kurt Swanson, who sits on the foundation board.
Since the family's proceeds from the settlement can't pay for the whole project, they've set up a website to take contributions. They hope classes can start next year.
Mohamed's death is also changing things for the better in St. Paul. The city is rebuilding the park area where the tragedy happened, although part of the site remains off limits. High risk areas will be fenced off, an overlook at the top of the bluff has been removed. Work is expected to start soon on a new and safer trail through the area.
"It was very heartbreaking for me," Kanneh said after discovering Mohamed's wish to help children. "I called my husband, and I showed him this book. I said, 'We have to work to make his dream come true.'"