Annah Tafadzwa and friends are seen here at a Youth Action Africa computer literacy center in South Africa. Tafadzwa (bottom) is seen here after graduating from the free computer literacy center in South Africa. (Photos courtesy of Roland Fomundam)
When most college sophomores are focused on choosing their majors, Roland Fomundam was thinking about changing the world.
As an undergraduate student in 2007 at Northeastern University studying biology and business, Fomundam created Youth Action Africa, an organization aimed at alleviating poverty through education in his homeland of Cameroon and the rest of Africa.
Now, six years and a master’s degree in technological entrepreneurship later, Fomundam is still hard at work trying to bring educational and economic opportunities to people in Africa. For him, this journey started with the idea of combating malaria.
“My initial goal was to seek preventative methods for common diseases,” he said. After receiving a donation of nearly 500 mosquito nets, he headed to Cameroon to give them away. Not long after, he did the same thing, this time with a large donation of condoms and the aim of curbing the spread of HIV/AIDS.
When he followed up on how these donations were being used, Fomundam said, “I was shocked because most people had sold them.” He said it made him realize that the real issue plaguing Africans lie elsewhere. “It made me think that maybe these guys need something else.”
The 29-year-old said it would take a trip to South Africa and an unexpectedly candid answer from a woman he was trying to help, to open his eyes to what that something was.
“I told her I represented an organization and we were just looking for ways that we could be of assistance,” Fomundam said. “She just looked at me and she said one thing, ‘we just need the education.’ It was a turning point in my life because it wasn’t what I was expecting to hear. I was expecting to hear, clothes or money or food but she just told me, ‘we need education.’ ”
Inspired, Fomundam extended his stay in South Africa to set up a free computer literacy course for 10 women. Of the six that completed the course, he said four of them were able to quickly secure good jobs. “That, to me, was a huge success,” he remembered.
That project shaped the way Fomundam and his organization continues to approach the task of combating poverty in Africa.
“Now we thought, instead of us getting mosquito nets or condoms to give to people, how about we create a platform that will provide access for people to get information? And that was the birth of the current Youth Action Africa,” he said.
Now Fomundam and Youth Action Africa are involved in many projects that range from their flagship Free Computer Literacy and Skills Development Center to a conceptual employment assistance program, all aimed at empowering Africans through education. They have operations in South Africa, Mali, Egypt and Cameroon.
“A project that we are currently working on is the In-Home Sponsorship Program, which is for orphans,” he explained. “We are working with another organization called Cameroon One. What happens; is they find orphans off the street, and Youth Action Africa gets these orphans back with their families. Then we provide the families with some allowance to make sure they go to school and for health care. We have people on the ground checking in to make sure that these kids’ educations are covered and that their health needs are being covered.”
This passion for “making an impact,” comes from seeing the wealth of opportunities that were opened to him after he migrated to the United States from Cameroon in 2003.
“I know people, that if they came here, they would do so well,” Fomundam said. “That was something that struck me and I tried to think of a way to take the opportunities and resources that I have here in the U.S. and getting them back to Cameroon. That has been my quest from that point. I just started finding different ways to get things to them any way I could. That’s what started this passion for me.”
Fomundam believes his youth, unique perspective as a son of the soil and role as someone Africans identify with is what sets him and his organization apart. He also said it is this same approach that makes it challenging to get help for Youth Action Africa’s projects and can present problems with networking.
“The reason why you find the old problems going on and on, and the same old solutions that have not been working, is because the same old people that have been trying to solve these problems only connect themselves with the same old people who’ve been looking for solutions,” he said. “They aren’t looking for new people with new solutions to old problems. I believe we have something that, if it is well implemented, can make an impact on the continent and in the world.
“Someone once asked me if I was given a million dollars, what would I do with it? I don’t even need a million dollars, I just need a hundred thousand, even ten thousand and I would be able to impact the lives of a million people. I believe a million dollars can cut the poverty gap in Africa within ten years.”
Fomundam admitted that his work is always challenging and can sometimes be frustrating, but there is nothing else he would rather be doing.
“I have dedicated my whole life to this,” Fomundam said. “I tried working but it just wasn’t working for me. I just couldn’t focus on a job because I felt whenever I sat at an office desk, I was making my dreams go away.”
Fomundam continued, “My dream is something I’m always going to pursue and I will do anything to achieve them. So challenges or no challenges I believe that I am on course to not only achieve my dreams, but to benefit society.”
For more information about Youth Action Africa, visit www.youthactionafrica.com and its Facebook page.
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