TheGrio's 100: Afam Onyema, building a world-class hospital in Nigeria

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After graduating from Harvard University and Stanford Law School, Afam Onyema turned down jobs from prestigious law firms with starting salaries of $160,000 to help realize his father’s dream of opening a world-class hospital in Nigeria — which will be called the Augustine Memorial Hospital.

Onyema’s father is an obstetrician from Nigeria who moved to Chicago in the ‘70s. He hoped to one day found a hospital in Anambra, a state in southeastern Nigeria. But it was not something Afam seriously considered helping his father with, until hearing U2 singer Bono speak when he was at Harvard University in 2001. Bono, he told Harvard magazine, “really challenged my class to… realize that because of our privileges, more was expected of us.”

From there, Afam and his father started making plans for the hospital while Afam went to law school at Stanford. After graduating, he turned down lucrative job offers to help his father build the hospital, establishing the GEANCO Foundation to oversee the process.

As GEANCO’s chief operating officer, Afam has recruited A-list celebrities such as actor Forest Whitaker, model Kimora Lee Simmons, actor Dijimon Hounsou, and Nobel Prize winners to raise awareness and money for the hospital.

Afam Onyema is making history … as a young philanthropist who took his Ivy League education and used it to help the less fortunate. Nigeria, a country with the largest maternal mortality rate in Africa, does not currently have an adequate health care system to address the issues facing its citizens. Onyema has been named to the New Leaders Council’s “40 Under 40” list for his work with GEANCO.

What’s next for Afam?

Onyema continues to work to help his father realize his dream by raising money and making plans for Augustine Memorial in Anambra State.

In his own words …

“I didn’t initially think I would do this as a career,” Onyema told Harvard Magazine. “I thought I would help my father’s dream come true and then move on to the next challenge. But to me this is the next challenge.”

A little-known fact about Nigeria …

Nigeria has the second-highest number of people living with and dying from HIV/AIDS in the world, after South Africa.

For more about GEANCO, click here.THE GRIO’S Q&A WITH AFAM ONYEMA

Q: What’s next in this chapter of your life?

A: My central focus at this point in my life is to lead, to the best of my ability, my family foundation’s effort to save lives and build a world-class hospital in Nigeria, my parents’ homeland. Through our GEANCO Foundation, I am seeking to develop the hospital for the long-term while organizing medical missions to Nigeria in the short-term.

Q: What’s a fact about you that many people don’t know?

A: I am an avid short-story writer. In 2004, I won the $1,000 prize in Ebony Magazine’s short story contest.

Q: What’s your favorite quote?

A: “I have been crucified with Christ, and I myself no longer live, but Christ lives within me.” -Galatians 2:20

Q: Where do you get your inspiration from?

A: My Christian faith, my loving parents and siblings, and my supportive friends.

Q: Who are/were your mentors?

A: My father and my high school football coach, Dave Mattio.