Family who lost son in Lilydale landslide to build school in Africa

Lilydale African School

ST. PAUL - A family who lost their child in a St. Paul landslide is making sure his memory lives on.

Ten-year-old Mohammed Fofana was one of two students who died at Lilydale Park two years ago this week. Fofana and Haysem Sani, who also died, were on a school field trip at Lilydale hunting for fossils when the bluff above them gave way and buried them.

Mohamed Fofana had a big dream to build a school in his parents' native country in Africa. Now, they are trying to make that dream a reality.

"During these two years, every day, every hour, every second, I'm thinking about my son," Lancine Fofana, Mohamed's father, said. "Sometimes I can hear Mohamed's voice."

It would have been very difficult two years ago for the Fofana family to imagine finding any good in such tragedy. But they still hope to help their young son's dreams come true.

And Mohamed dreamed big.

It's something his mother discovered just a week after Mohamed's death when she found a small book among his belongings – a life book – written by her son.

Mohamed wrote that he wanted to help the poor and to raise money for a school. He would become a professional soccer player who would make enough money to do that - a goal he imagined after visiting his father's native Guinea in West Africa and seeing children with no shoes, who couldn't afford to go to school.

"Since he's not there anymore to accomplish that dream, we as parents want to make that happen," said Mohamed's mother Madosu Kanneh.

And so, two years after the landslide took Mohamed's life, his parents are working to help children in Guinea live a better life.

They donated part of the legal settlement funds they received from St. Paul and the St. Louis Park School District to help build a 12-room school in Siguiri, Guinea. Twin Cities architectural firm Architecture for Humanity donated renderings and plans. This month, Mohamed's father Lancine travelled to Guinea to see the first concrete block laid on the ground.

"From tragedy to project - is something that comes from Mohamed himself," said Lancine.

Lancine and Madosu are proud parents, now standing proudly over the project that is part of a two-year emotional journey. It's brought this family closer together, but they still wish Mohamed was here to see the dream he imagined become real.

"I wish Mohamed was on the side of me to see his dreams come true," Lancine said.

The Mohamed Fofana Memorial School is expected to open sometime next year. It will also have a soccer field and basketball court.

In addition to using the settlement money, the Fofanas have created a non-profit for people who want to donate to the project. For more information click here:

Meantime, the city of St. Paul plans to reopen part of the Lilydale park this summer, including one fossil bed. Work has been done to stabilize the trail. New fencing and signs will also go up, but most of the park will remains off limits to the public.


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