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Jay Dortzbach, Deseret News
Mitch Weight, founder of Sahbu, is on a mission to help educate children orphaned by war and AIDS in Liberia.

PLEASANT GROVE — A Utah County man is on his way to Liberia to deliver notebooks, pens, toys and scholarships to children orphaned by war and AIDS.

Mitch Weight, founder Sahbu, is on a mission to help educate impoverished kids in west Africa, and he's doing so by transforming his own Internet business.

Weight's two adopted boys from Liberia inspired the project, he said.

Weight, his wife and their five children were thrilled to welcome 13-year-old Surprise and 10-year-old Thomas into their family in January.

Weight said he was stunned by what he saw when they picked up the boys. Children inside the orphanage where his sons lived were learning to read and write. Outside, it was a different story.

"Outside of the environment of education, it's horrific," he said. "Without an education, you are consigned to crime, prostitution or just working in the streets trying to find something to sell."

Children of every age are working in the street markets or roaming in gangs, and young girls work as prostitutes for food and money, he said.

"Sixty percent of the school-age girls that go to school get involved in that just to pay their school fees," Weight said.

Without an education, boys have a 50 percent chance of living a life of crime, he said. Liberia has been ravaged by more than a decade of civil war, and more than 80 percent of the people live in poverty.

Crime is rampant, and education is the key to a better life, Weight said.

"We walked through the slums," he said. "We walked through these war-torn areas. All of the cement buildings have bullet holes all over the place."

But when he read with kids in the orphanage, he discovered how much they loved school. The children know that if they learn to read and write, they have a future off the streets, Weight said. Once he learned that, he started to see a better future for them.

"You see what kind of opportunities could happen if we contributed a little bit," Weight said.

With Sahbu, he aims to help more than 1,000 kids in Liberia.

The for-profit company helps students in America find schools that meet their needs. The American schools pay Sahbu when it finds students for them, and Sahbu uses some of that money to send kids in Liberia to school. 

Weight said it costs about $160 to send a child in Liberia to school for a year.

"In the first three days, we had 22,000 people come to our Facebook page," he said. "Word is getting out."    

Weight left Friday for Liberia, where he will hand out 50 scholarships. Sahbu already has sponsored more than 100 kids

The company is working with Lifting Liberia, a Salt Lake City-based nonprofit organization that provides scholarships to children there.

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"I know the need is great, and we are just barely at the start," Weight said. "I look forward to doing some really big things there."

Sahbu, which means "bald man" in Liberia, is a term of affection that Weight's kids have used with him. He liked it and decided to go with it, and the boys think it's great.

Meanwhile, Surprise and Thomas say they love going to school in Pleasant Grove.

Surprise said it's important "to learn and be a better person." Back in Liberia, he studied at the orphanage. Now, he gets to ride a bus to a real high school with all of the other kids.

Thomas called his American school "awesome."

E-mail: jboal@ksl.com