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In This Issue:
Team Brigham member Ibrahim Khonteh, center, with his trainer, Oscar Ponte, at left, and his mentor, Jo-Anne Dillman.
Ibrahim Khonteh and his mother left their home in war-torn Sierra Leone four years ago for a better life in Boston. Khonteh, now 18 and a senior at English High School in Jamaica Plain, is helping others to make a better life.
Since Khonteh arrived in Dorchester and began as a freshman at English High, he has given back to his community through his involvement in organizations, including Teen Empowerment, through which teens discuss how to solve problems in their neighborhoods without violence, and a Bikes Not Bombs program that teaches kids how to fix bikes. Khonteh’s latest way of giving back is joining Team Brigham to run the Boston Marathon and raise money for BWH community programs, including the Teen Health Center at English High, where he received health care when he came to the United States.
“This is the way I’m going to find money to give people who need help,” Khonteh said. “I love to help people.”
At the Teen Health Center, he met Jo-Anne Dillman, the center’s founding program director and a nurse practitioner, who is now project manager at Brookside Community Health Center. Dillman and Khonteh remained close as Khonteh went through high school, joined the soccer and track teams and got involved in the community. When he saw a picture of Dillman running the Boston Marathon, Khonteh immediately was drawn to a new challenge. With the support and guidance of Dillman, who has 14 marathons under her belt, Khonteh ran the Boston Marathon last year unofficially. This year, Dillman connected him with Team Brigham and its efforts to raise $500,000 for community programs. “Ibrahim really is the kind of person who wants to give back and help others,” Dillman said.
An unbreakable spirit and fierce determination push Khonteh to accept challenges like the marathon. “I’m not going to give up,” he said. “I want to be at the finish line.”
Before coming to the United States, just staying safe was a challenge for Khonteh and his mother in Sierra Leone, an African country in the throes of an 11-year civil war when they left. He remembers hiding from rebel groups, who tried to kidnap children and force them to join the rebel efforts.
These days, Khonteh enjoys the jam-packed schedule of an ambitious high school student and athlete. He balances his school work with soccer and track, community service and a part-time job at Stop and Shop—all while training for the marathon.
Oscar Ponce, Urban Youth Sports Program coordinator at Brookside Community Health Center, puts together Khonteh’s marathon-training regimen. Even after the marathon, they’ll continue to train together to start Khonteh on the road to one of his next goals: competing in the Olympics. “This training will help prepare him to meet his goals going through life,” Ponce said.
Among those goals is studying international relations in college after he graduates from English High this spring. “I will be the first in my family to go to college,” Khonteh said. “Just like with the marathon, I won’t give up.”