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As we look back at 2012, Opportunity Africa wants to thank YOU—our donors and supporters—for what you helped us accomplish this year. Here’s our Top 5 achievements of 2012:
- Launched the Classroom Connections program, which connects students in Minnesota and Cameroon. These kids are learning about each other’s lives by communicating through Skype, emails, and photo exchanges—the kinds of cross-cultural learningopportunities that provide the skills to become successful global citizens, promote peace, and effectively participate in a globalized economy.
December 26, 2012 by heather, under Uncategorized.
Vieux Nguepi, one of Opportunity Africa’s first scholarship recipients, is now a published author. His book, Mumba, The Indomitable Gorilla: Biography of a Slave Gorilla who died in captivity in a Canadian zoo, was published on December 19, 2012.
Nguepi not only surprised Opportunity Africa with his authorship of the book, he also announced that he will donate 50% of the book’s profits to the organization. In addition, he also hopes to make available printed copies free of charge for students in Cameroon.
Mumba was the first gorilla ever to arrive in Quebec, Canada. He was captured in southeastern Cameroon in the Congo River Basin Rainforest in 1961. In a living scientific experiment, this male silverback gorilla was raised as a human baby in captivity at the Granby Zoo. Nguepi recounts the story of this brave animal’s life, describes the controversial circumstances surrounding his death, and comments on the fate of other gorillas in captivity.
“Mumba was very popular in Quebec,” Nguepi explains. “Over 20 million Granby Zoo visitors saw him.” Mumba died in 2008 at the age of 48.
This book is an extension of Nguepi’s graduate studies in Environmental Management at the University of Liege, Belgium, and his subsequent internship in Canada. Nguepi returned to Cameroon last year and currently serves as the Ground Coordinator for Opportunity Africa’s Classroom Connections program in Bertoua.
Mumba, The Indomitable Gorilla is currently only available for download in French. An English translation is underway.
If you’ve been following our recent updates, you’ve been reading names like “Bertoua” and “Kentzou” and hearing about our focus on Cameroon’s East region. Not quite an expert on Cameroonian geography? Or wondering why we picked the East in particular? You’re about to find out.
An Introduction to the East
Like the rest of Cameroon, the East is very culturally diverse. There are many different ethnic groups, including sedentary farmers such as the Gbaya, nomadic Fulbe pastoralists, and the Baka, (sometimes called Pygmies), who are thought to be the earliest inhabitants of the area. Each group has its own culture and language, but French is often used as a common language, especially in cities. Most people in the region make their living through subsistence farming.
The climate in the region is fairly hot, with two rainy and two dry seasons each year. The terrain consists of low, rolling hills—locals call them “half-oranges” because of their rounded shape!
The rainforest sets the East Region apart from other areas in Cameroon. Forest covers about two-thirds of the region, which comprises a portion of the Congo River Basin Rainforest
—the second largest rainforest in the world (only the Amazon is bigger). The government has established four forest and game reserves, and environmental protection of the forests is a major issue in local politics. Timber exploitation (of both legal and illegal varieties) is the predominant economic activity of the region, as well as illegal bushmeat and ivory trade.
The magic of the forest is inescapable, as anyone who visits will surely tell you. Check out this song written by one of our board advisers after his travels there as an undergraduate study abroad student!
Congo River Basin Blues
“The Forgotten Region”
Cameroon’s East region is sometimes characterized as “forgotten” by politicians and development projects. It has little political or economic importance for Cameroon, and there is the added challenge of accessing the region.The East is the largest of the country’s 10 regions—at the same time, it is also the least densely populated. This is mainly because of the thick forests that cover much of the region, making it a challenge for large settlements to develop. In addition, the dense forests, large land area, and lack of reliable roads make travel difficult.
Because of these challenges, development indicators for the East are lower than for other regions of Cameroon. Health services and education, for example, are not widely available. Where these services do exist, they are usually found in larger cities, which are hard for rural residents to access.
Its “forgotten” status is one major reason why Opportunity Africa chose to concentrate our work in the East. The East is an amazing place—full of cultural and ecological diversity—but has been neglected by many development projects. We knew this was an area where our efforts could have a direct and lasting impact on people’s lives!
Bertoua and Kentzou
So now you know the East region has received less attention and has a high level of need for aid in education, which makes it a good place to focus our work. But what about Bertoua and Kentzou, specifically, where our programs take place?
Bertoua is the administrative capital of the East region, with a population of about 200,000. It’s the nerve center for things happening in the East—local delegations of government administrations are there, and it’s the location of the headquarters of most non-governmental organizations working in the region. It also has a bilingual high school, with whom we are partnering for our Classroom Connections program.
Kentzou, on the other hand, is a rural town of about 17,000 people, right on the border of the Central African Republic. As a rule, rural students have less access to education than those in urban areas. Combining this with lower levels of access in the East in general, rural students in the East start school at a significant disadvantage. Our scholarship program, which focuses mainly on students in Kentzou, aims to lessen that disadvantage by providing students financial support to achieve their educational goals.
The East is an area with some of the greatest needs in Cameroon. Although Opportunity Africa hopes to expand its efforts into other regions in the country, we decided to focus our efforts here as an important starting point.
November 26, 2012 by heather, under Classroom Connections.
Opportunity Africa is thrilled that students in rural Minnesota and in rural Cameroon are continuing to develop and deepen the relationships that began this fall. Fergus Falls High School student, Anne Childs, shares the experience of her most recent Skype session with her pal in Bertoua, Cameroon.
I think the thing that I find most interesting is how excited we both are when we start to talk. The thrill of the first [Skype session] is still there. It seems crazy to be able to talk with someone half a world away, et en francais!
The Skype went really well, I think. When we started talking, I couldn’t catch what she was saying, but I finally did. She was asking about my swim meet, but she was using a phrase I didn’t recognize… this is what she said, both during the Skype and in the email: “C’est déroulée la compétition (match de natation) vas-tu competir pour les regionals? et les regionals vont se déroulés quelle date précisément?” It was all words that I knew, but the way she said it and the phrasing caught me off guard.
We talked about traditional clothing also. I told her about a sweater I have from Norway, because my family is very Norwegian. She explained a “kaaba” to me. It is a wrap dress. She also said she might wear it for our next “seance”.
I feel like I’m getting a little better at understanding her French. In the first Skype it was a little frustrating to me that I had to keep on asking her to repeat herself. But now, I think I’m catching on to her conversational French.”
November 24, 2012 by heather, under Organization updates.
A huge thanks to everyone who participated in Give to the Max Day on November 15! Your outpouring of generosity enabled us to raise $1,425—easily surpassing our goal of $1,000.
The 4th annual day of nonprofit giving in the state of Minnesota broke new records—53,339 donors gave $16 million to 4,381 different organizations. GiveMN, the sponsor for Give to the Max Day, created this video to thank everyone who participated. We extend our gratitude to everyone both within and outside Minnesota’s borders who made it a success!
Three of Opportunity Africa’s Give to the Max Day donors also stepped forward as Partners for Scholars’ Success. They are now in the process of connecting with the students they will partner with for the rest of the school year. We can’t wait for these students and partners to get to know each other!
Without your generous support of Opportunity Africa and these students, our work wouldn’t be possible. In this week of Thanksgiving, we’re thankful for YOU!
October 27, 2012 by heather, under Classroom Connections.
Fergus Falls and Africa may be a world away, but through modern technology, students at Kennedy Secondary School have had the opportunity to talk face-to-face with students from Bertoua, Cameroon.
Nine students from Deb Sutor’s French classes have been using Skype to video chat one-on-one with French speaking African students.
“This is really fun,” said French student Breanna Larson. “It helps us learn the language more.” Read the full article here.
October 17, 2012 by heather, under Organization updates, Student updates.
Opportunity Africa is proud to announce our scholarship recipients for the 2012-2013 school year! This is a dynamic group of eight Cameroonian students—7 high school students and one Master’s student—all of whom are all highly motivated and working hard to achieve their dreams.
Take, for example, Josiane, age 13, who dreams of becoming a businesswoman and wants to be an example to her community about the importance of educating girls. Or Riskard, age 15, who dreams of becoming a lawyer to help the most poor, in addition to his family, village, and country. And Yvonne, age 16, wants to become an English teacher to help people learn and love English.
Become a Partner
Many of our supporters expressed interest in connecting in a meaningful way with our students. This year, Opportunity Africa invites you to partner with one of them to support their educational journey in the 2012-13 academic year.
When you become a Partner for Scholars’ Success, you not only make it financially possible for this student to attend school, you also embark on a deep, meaningful relationship in this young person’s quest to pursue their dreams. Consider what your partnership could mean to one of these students on their path to academic success.
Each of our scholarship recipients have overcome some imposing challenges throughout the course of their education—from losing both parents, to paying their own way through school, to challenging the stereotype that girls don’t need an education. Having successfully made it this far is proof of their resilience, tenacity, and enthusiasm for learning.
Join us in celebrating these students’ achievements so far—we look forward to all they will accomplish in the future. Stay connected via Facebook or our newsletter to follow these students in their educational journeys!
October 10, 2012 by heather, under Classroom Connections.
On October 4, our new Classroom Connections project went live. High school students in Bertoua, Cameroon, and Fergus Falls, Minnesota, met each other today for the first time via Skype.
“Words cannot describe how awesome our Skype session was today,” said French teacher, Deb Sutor. “The students in French III/IV were able to personally greet and converse with their Cameroonian friend for 30-40 min. today. They had so much fun and learned quite a bit too.”
Opportunity Africa founder and board president, Heather Buesseler, reacted to this important moment: “”This literally brings tears to my eyes—to see my hometown and “le deuxieme chez moi” (my second home) connect in this way is truly moving. I believe this will be the beginning of a truly life-changing semester for these students.”
Like us on Facebook for regular updates on these exchanges throughout the year.
October 8, 2012 by heather, under Classroom Connections.
Cameras and webcams have arrived in Cameroon! And with them, the beginning of an exciting semester for high school students in both Fergus Falls, Minnesota, and Bertoua, Cameroon. These tools will create a virtual portal through which these students can connect and share discoveries about life on the other side of the world.
A few months ago, we announced a new Opportunity Africa initiative — Classroom Connections. Since then, people on both ends of the project have been working hard to get the details in place and prepare for the official launch. This program facilitates cross-cultural interactions and reciprocal learning between students at the Bilingual High School in Bertoua, Cameroon and Fergus Falls High School in Minnesota. Students at these schools will engage in email and Skype exchanges; share photos, stories, and experiences; and collaborate on projects to deepen their learning.
Join us in the journey! Check out the photos below of Mrs. Sutor’s students packing up the parcels to send to Bertoua. Then like us on Facebook or sign up for our newsletter to get updates on their progress throughout the year!
The first step: taking the cameras…
…and packing them with care…
…and some words of introduction.
Once everything’s ready…
…it’s off to the shipping office in Fargo, North Dakota (no mail carriers in Fergus Falls could send it this far!).
Those packages have a long way to go!
Looks like a job well done!
Stay tuned for more updates throughout the semester!
In 2008, I had the chance to study and volunteer in the beautiful country of Tanzania. That summer sparked in me a fascination with international development, education, and the widely diverse continent of Africa, as well as a yearning to give back.
I found just that chance when I was offered a position with Opportunity Africa. As an intern, my job was largely centered on communications and social media. I blogged, Facebooked, interviewed, Tweeted, emailed, wrote, (rewrote), and edited stories for and about the nonprofit. But the knowledge and skills I gained from this experience went far beyond communications—in fact, my time with Opportunity Africa allowed me to significantly reflect upon the world and our role as global citizens.
One of the most interesting aspects of the internship was the way in which technology intersected with real-life. As it was a telecommuting position, much of my cyber-work could be done anywhere and anytime – saw an interesting story on my phone at lunch? Retweet! Didn’t get to work on newsletter layout until midnight? No problem!
However, the internship also allowed me to forge connections outside of the cyber-world. Technology linked me to incredible people across the country and globe as I attended Board meetings via telephone, and I enjoyed support and networking from local nonprofits in the Twin Cities.
I know that future interns will have their own unique experience working with this great nonprofit, but there are a few things I can promise. A position with Opportunity Africa is:
1. Incredibly educational. Working with communications and social media exposes you to an incredible amount of information that will inevitably expand your horizons. Not only did I learn a lot about Cameroon, but I was immediately engaged with the rest of the world just by opening OA’s Twitter account.
2. Valuable—not only to yourself, but to the organization. OA is a relatively small and completely volunteer-run nonprofit, so your work as an intern is very important. I wasn’t going on any coffee-runs; instead I received hands-on experience with a fledgling nonprofit and even helped them research and strategize.
3. Inspiring. The passion that Opportunity Africa members exude is truly contagious. Every board member has a personal connection to the cause and wholeheartedly believes in the organization’s mission. Even a short chat with the president or my supervisor left me feeling motivated—and ready to change the world one story at a time.
My time with Opportunity Africa may be ending, but in no way is my commitment to their cause. Their work in Cameroon and the United States makes the world a better place with every student they touch, and I will continue to support them in whatever way possible!