A Time magazine headline called it “Hell on Christmas Day.” As hundreds of faithful were seated in churches across Nigeria in 2011, militants bombed three houses of worship, causing mass casualties and striking fear across the country.
University of Virginia second-year student Oluwatimiehin Ayoh, who goes by “Timi,” was with his family in Abuja getting ready for church that morning when the news flashed on the television screen. Coordinated attacks by Islamist militant group Boko Haram had left at least 37 people dead and many more injured.
The carnage was especially gruesome at St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madalla, a suburb of Abuja, just 25 miles from the Ayoh household. The church was packed with worshipers when the explosion hit. St. Theresa’s school was also badly damaged.
Ayoh’s family stayed home that Christmas morning and the young teen, stung by the terrible news, began to ask himself how he could help.
For him, the answer came in the form of books. “I was talking with my parents. I realized that how you stop the hate is just through knowledge and discussion. When I thought of knowledge, I immediately thought of books,” he said.
St. Theresa’s school library was hard-hit by the explosion, so Ayoh decided that was where he could help. He donated more than 100 books to the library and went to his father for advice on how to fund the construction of a new library. The senior Ayoh connected his son with a friend who happened to be the CEO of a financial technology company that was also looking for a positive way to respond to the Christmas Day attacks.
So Ayoh teamed with a company called SystemsSpecs, which funded the entire rebuild.
Six years and $25,000 later, the school has gleaming new facilities, including science and chemistry labs. The library, the heart of the school, underwent a profound transformation. Where there was once a small, dusty room, now stands a large space enveloped by book shelves and filled with new furniture, computers, air conditioning and the books Ayoh donated.
Ayoh, who is considering a major in economics or leadership, visited the new facility in July for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and said the experience was one he will treasure for a lifetime.
“It was really amazing,” he said. “I felt like I finally made a tangible difference that I can see and feel after this long process.”
He was also heartened to see the looks on the students’ faces when they saw the library for the first time. “When they walked in, the looks on all their faces were just priceless. They were just so happy and I just felt so good,” he said.
The library is named “Timi Ayoh’s Library.”