Our Operating Principles
- Education is a basic human right for everyone, regardless of a person’s gender, race, or socioeconomic status.
- Education reduces poverty and improves health outcomes for individuals and their families.
- Education creates stronger communities with the resources to end hunger, conflict, and poverty in Africa.
Opportunity Africa was founded by Heather Buesseler and Michelle Wilson in 2007. Heather and Michelle studied abroad in Cameroon through the School for International Training in 2001. Overcome by the generous hospitality and open hearts of their host friends and families, they have since been searching for meaningful ways to give back.
In their correspondences with Cameroonian friends and host families in the years since studying abroad, Heather and Michelle began to notice a theme. Over and over again their host family and friends would turn to them for resources to help them with their educational pursuits—nursing school, graduate school abroad, primary school, technical school for electronics.
These people had given Heather and Michelle so much with so little during their time in Cameroon. After providing these friends and host family members with some financial assistance on their own for many years, they knew many more students could be reached and much more could be achieved with an organized effort. And so began Opportunity Africa.
Who we are
Heather Buesseler, Founder/Board President
Heather had no idea how much her life would change when she studied abroad in Cameroon through the School for International Training in the fall of 2001. Her host families and friends she made, with whom she has maintained close ties, left an indelible mark on her life with their warmth, generosity, and hospitality. Heather returned to the East Province of Cameroon the summer of 2002 to conduct research on malnutrition and dietary habits. These experiences both launched Heather’s career in public health and served as her inspiration for founding Opportunity Africa. Heather holds a Master’s in Public Health from the University of Washington (2010), and a B.A. from Macalester College (2003) in International Studies and Anthropology. She enjoys traveling to the world’s more far-flung places and running along the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, where she resides.
Yaya Hamidou-Oumarou, Board Vice-President
Originally from Cameroon, Hamidou moved to the US in 2005. In Cameroon, he worked with the School for International Training’s study abroad program as a Project Coordinator and Fulani Instructor. He also founded an NGO called Cercle des Amis sans Frontiers, and provided technical assistance to the Kentzou Water Project. In addition, Hamidou has worked with the Red Cross in both the U.S. and Central African Republic. Hamidou holds a certificate in French Education and a nursing assistant license. He is fluent in over 10 languages and hopes that someday his son, Sankara, will speak Fulani.
Jason Astle, Board Secretary/Acting Treasurer
Jason served as a Peace Corps volunteer from 2000-2002 in the small village of Bandangoue in the East Region of Cameroon. He is currently an Associate at a small law firm outside of Denver, where he lives with his wife and daughter. He is also the author of an online litigation and appellate resource for Colorado attorneys, the Colorado Litigation Report. But his desire to give back to the community was not entirely fulfilled by his profession. He joined the board of Opportunity Africa because it combines all his personal beliefs and passions with his experiences and talents in order to give back in a meaningful, impactful way.
Joseph Hatheway, Board Member
In June 2010, Joe returned to the U.S. after two years of Peace Corps services in Cameroon. He worked as a teacher in the East Region and encountered countless young people who either struggled to pay for their schooling or could not pay at all. He looks forward to helping Opportunity Africa contribute to this need. Joe is currently a Registered Nurse, working on a cardiac unit in a hospital in northern Maine. He also holds a B.A. in International Affairs and is an avid Brazilian jiu jitsu practitioner.
Brandon Kendhammer, Board Member
Brandon’s first encounter with West Africa (in the spring of 2001, with the School for International Training in Cameroon) was a project on the role of chieftaincy in contemporary village life. That project turned into a career, and in 2010 he became Assistant Professor of Political Science and African Studies at Ohio University. Brandon’s work focuses on the politics of religion, culture, and democracy in West Africa (especially Nigeria, where he was a Fulbright Fellow in 2007-08) and has been published in a number of scholarly journals. He holds a Ph.D in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a B.A. in French and Politics from Coe College.
Michelle Wilson, Founder/Advisor to the Board
Michelle co-founded Opportunity Africa with Heather Buesseler. In the fall of 2001, she spent an unforgettable semester in Cameroon where she studied the pastimes and games of children in the neighborhood of Tindamba, Bertoua. Michelle has since worked in a variety of educational, outdoor, therapeutic programs with children in the U.S. She currently designs and teaches custom yoga and dance classes, works as a respite care provider, and facilitates adventure programs for Project Adventure. Michelle holds a B.A. from Pomona College, and she is a 200-hour certified Creative Kids Yoga Teacher and Training Assistant.
Nathan Folan, Advisor to the Board
Nate was one of the original board members of Opportunity Africa and served on the board for three years. Nate holds a B.A. in Elementary Education and B.S. in Sociology from Bridgewater State College. He has worked with youth for over 10 years in a variety of settings, including traditional classrooms, recreational programs, and wilderness therapy programs using experimental teaching methods. He is currently a trainer and consultant for Project Adventure, where he trains adults in adventure programming and facilitates youth programs.
Andrew Cohen, Advisor to the Board
Andrew is currently a student at Northeastern University School of Law. He holds a Master’s degree in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a B.A. in Politics and French from Wesleyan University. In the fall of 2001, Andrew studied abroad in Cameroon through the School for International Training with Heather and Michelle. When Andrew isn’t working to build power within historically disenfranchised communities, both in the U.S. and Cameroon, he leads a rock band, Hot Molasses, in his hometown of Boston.