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When William Massaquoi earned his master’s degree in international development from MIT, he was invited to work with the U.S.-based War Relief Corporation. But the soft-spoken Liberian says his path lay elsewhere. “I feel that those of us from Africa need to articulate the kind of rebuilding we want for our countries and pursue it,” he says.

Guided by his passionate convictions, Massaquoi decided to apply his MIT education as country director for Medical Teams International in Liberia. He manages a staff of 25 medical professionals for the charity, oversees five clinics serving 45,000 patients annually, and directs the 540 volunteers who serve the group in public-health education.

A survivor of Liberia’s civil war, Massaquoi sees the despair that haunts his country’s youth. “We need to expand opportunities, so our young people know there is no one standing in their way,” he says. So he also founded Rebuild Africa (rebuildafrica.org) in 2007. The nonprofit provides scholarships to youth and strives to revive jobs and social services so that war-displaced residents can resettle in their original homes. “Africa has a lot of resources,” he says. “It’s a matter of harnessing those resources and allowing people to express the spirit they have.”

“When I came to MIT, I thought I would find the answers to my country’s problems,” says Massaquoi, who was a Hubert Humphrey Fellow in MIT’s Special Program for Urban and Regional Studies (SPURS). “Instead, I learned how to sort through issues and begin to come up with my own answers.”

Before studying at MIT, he worked for more than a decade in relief and development in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Massaquoi established Liberia’s LEAP Microfinance Program and directed it from 1994 to 2002. He also worked for War Relief in Sierra Leone, managing a construction project that built 1,200 houses and three schools.

Massaquoi lives in Monrovia with his wife, Bartoe, and two daughters-Bildine, who is seven years old, and one-year-old Heila. Though he’s back in Liberia, he has moved a long way from his early years as a hungry child in a large family. “Growing up, I felt that I was in a deep valley, with many other people who were also struggling,” he says. “I was lucky enough to climb out. Now that I stand at the top, how could I walk away?”

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