HYRUM, Utah — A high school janitor and his wife are on their way to visit home for the first time in over a dozen years.
Students at Mountain Crest High School raised money to pay for flights and other travel expenses for Ernie Abouo and his wife Charlotte to go see family in the Ivory Coast, where the two fled from civil war 15 years ago.
Ernie was hired as a custodian at the school, and Charlotte taught French at Providence Elementary.
When Mountain Crest students heard that Charlotte’s mother was sick and that the family didn’t have the funds to go visit her, they created a GoFundMe campaign: “Ernie to Africa.”
But they didn’t stop there.
To raise money for the Abouos’ trip, students also sold wristbands and held a fundraising dinner — catered by Ernie himself, cooking authentic African food.
The students put “Marvelous” on the wristbands — a nickname they gave him from his positivity.
“Everybody who asks Ernie how his day is going, he always has a signature statement of ‘marvelous,’” said Mountain Crest Parent Jamie Sagers.
Fundraiser organizers said Friday that they had reached their goal and that the Abouos would be on their way to see Charlotte’s mother as well as other family members.
“Ernie is headed to Africa!!! Yeah!! Thank you for all your support and help along the way. Ernie and Charlotte are so excited to see old friends and family,” the campaign’s Instagram account posted along with a photo of the couple at the airport.
Ernie said life is often difficult — he went from owning 10 restaurants with a master’s degree to becoming a janitor in Utah — but said he forever loves his job, because he loves the students.
“I am touched by their kindness,” Ernie said. “What they do for me. I cannot forget. I pray for them and their family.”