Viktor Mak Travels to Cameroon
Since my full time job after college would not involve any international travel, I knew I had squeeze in at least one more trip before I was going to settle down into my full time job, located in the quiet of the suburbs of Washington D.C.
Just before graduation, I managed to find an opportunity with Open Dreams, a startup NGO, focused on extending educational opportunities in the United States to students in Cameroon. During my interview, I spoke about my experiences as a Benton Scholar in Sub-Saharan Africa and the academic work I’ve done related to economic development. I agreed almost as soon as they extended the offer.
Only spending enough time at home between graduation and my departure to convince my parents that Ebola and Boko Haram were not going to be a threat, I headed out. My journey to the NGO’s base of operations took almost a week. I left Florida and first traveled to New York City for a brief orientation on the history and mission of the NGO from two of its co-founders, Hans Kullberg and Blaise Buma.
Blaise was born and raised in Bamenda, Cameroon and was an exceptional student. After high school, Blaise was determined to seek a world class education, and instead of continuing onto university in Cameroon he spent the next two years navigating the US college application process. Finally, he secured a full scholarship to Washington and Lee University in Virginia. A few years later, Blaise helped his younger sister apply to McGill University in Canada. Blaise realized that he could help other students from his town by coaching them through the application and testing process. Cristina Bernardo and Hans heard about Blaise’s story and it coincided with their desire to promote access to education. Open Dreams was born in 2014 and just finished mentoring their first class of eight students!
Hans, myself, and Blaise [left to right]] in New York City
After two jam packed days in New York, I headed out to Cameroon. I missed my flight in Paris and had to spend 24 hours in the city of baguettes, crepes, cheese and wine - I couldn’t complain. The next day I landed in in the humid coastal city of Duala, Cameroon where I met James, my host, and a small welcome party. We spent the rest of the week traveling from Duala to Bamenda. We stopped in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon to meet with the Education Advisor at the US embassy and to make an appearance on national television. It turned out to be the equivalent of the Today show in the United States and people have been coming up to James and I telling us they saw us on TV.
I am now in Bamenda, which is the third largest city in Cameroon in the north eastern part of the country near the Nigerian border. For our arrival, James had organized a large welcome party to meet us at the Open Dreams offices. There were speeches made, drinks and toasts.
In the next five weeks, I will be interviewing the next group of mentees, organizing a learning center where students can study for the SAT and work on college applications, and looking for ways that Open Dreams could generate revenue to become self-sustaining. I look forward to working with the amazing people that I have met already, meeting many more amazing Cameroonians and experiencing everything that this country has to offer. I can already tell that I will be sad to go when the time comes.
The view from the Open Dreams Office