top of page
  • Open Dreams

Expanding our Horizon: Open Dreams Annual Review for 2019

Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” - Nelson Mandela

When adversity comes knocking on your door, it’s your reaction to this adversity – not adversity itself – that determines how your life story develops. This captures the spirit of resiliency effervescing from the tribulations of conflict our students and staff faced during a tumultuous year. In fact, if one were to simply look at the accomplishments – scholarships, partnerships, events, growth and fundraising – one would overlook the context of the environment our resilient organization has overcome in 2019. Despite facing headwinds primarily due to the political conflict that has ensnared the mere existence of ‘normal activity’ in Cameroon over the past 3 years, we are proud to record our most prolific and successful year during our 5th full year in operation.

Edwin, Franklin, Muki, and Elvis meeting each other after a while to share their new experiences in the UK and the accompanying lessons

While Bamenda and Yaoundé continue to serve as our regional headquarters, we’ve continued to expand our access to education mantra across the country, hosting events in Douala, Buea and a host of other cities reaching talented students throughout Cameroon. As always, we owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude to our tireless and unrelenting country director, Akaba James, who has performed admirably in pushing the boundaries of what one human can possibly achieve to promote the education of so many. Along with Claudette, Alice and a number of mentors, teachers, advisors, admission officers, partners, local leaders and colleagues, Open Dreams is expanding its reach, building bridges and creating more impact than ever before. While the civil strife has severely crippled operations in our headquarters in Bamenda, it has failed to restrain the educational dreams and aspirations of our ambitious scholars, who have worked tirelessly to secure a better future for themselves as well and their community. The accomplishments encapsulated herein lies as a testament to the resolve, determination and resiliency of our staff and, most especially, our students who are tenacious in their earnestness to expand the boundaries to accomplish their highest ambitions. While challenges and hurdles will be a constant one faces in life, it’s our response to these obstacles that ultimately determines one’s fate. To expound on 2019 in review, we have summarized the highlights, events, challenges, successes and ongoing developments in our Open Dreams Annual Review letter:

Our Scholars excited as they kicked off at the new center in Yaounde

Open Dreams Scholars Reaching New Heights & Scholarships Awarded

With tremendous perseverance and determination, Open Dreams Scholars reached new heights in 2019, highlighting what was unquestionably a record-breaking year. In a pleasant surprise even to ourselves, an incredible 34 scholars received fully-funded, 4-year scholarships to attend prestigious institutions around the world. The Open Dreams community keeps expanding geographical borders across the globe with scholars in 19 different countries and 6 different states in the United States. While our roots have been grounded in placing scholars in undergraduate university institutions, we have naturally received many inquiries regarding graduate-level courses over the years. Responding to this need, our program has evolved to include these ambitious scholars under our mentorship as an extension of the core curriculum and we’re happy to have seen 6 Masters and 2 PhD students matriculate into all-expenses-paid programs around the world. We salute and honor the following scholars who have seized their opportunity to embolden their future via a full-scholarship in 2019:

Open Dreams Undergraduate Scholars

TonyLouis Verberi, ILOT Scholarship, University of Toronto, Canada

Rodney Ngoh, MasterCard Foundation Scholarship, Ashesi University, Ghana

Ursula Azocha, MasterCard Foundation Scholarship, KNUST, Ghana

Abang Faith, MasterCard Foundation Scholarship, Ashesi University, Ghana

Noris Atsina - MasterCard Foundation Scholarship, Ashesi University, Ghana

Elvis, who is pursuing his second year at the University of Edinburgh is happy to hoist the National flag of Cameroon with Perpetua who joined him this year (2019/2020 session)

Njeck Precious, MasterCard Foundation Scholarship, Ashesi University, Ghana

Ndeh Arthur, MasterCard Foundation Scholarship, University of Cape Town

Ngosong Clement, MasterCard Foundation Scholarship, Ashesi University, Ghana

Ngum Sylvia, MasterCard Foundation Scholarship, Ashesi University, Ghana

Ngong Oliver, MasterCard Foundation Scholarship, Ashesi University, Ghana

Kitio Koumgang, Italian Government Scholarship, Politecnico de Milan, Italy

Mewung Kelly, MasterCard Foundation Scholarship, Egerton University, Kenya

Edmond Nfor, MasterCard Foundation Scholarship, Egerton University, Kenya

Precious Afanwi, MasterCard Foundation Scholarship, American University of Beirut, Lebanon

Ramish Suh, MasterCard Foundation Scholarship, American University of Beirut, Lebanon

Clement, Precious, Oliver, Faith, Sylvia, Noris and Rodney already feeling at home during their first few weeks at Ashesi University

Tchepngoum Djeukam, Russian Government Scholarship, ITMO St Petersburg, Russia

Che Arnaud, Conservation Leaders Scholarship Program, ALU, Rwanda

Jelissa Kayo (from ALA), Lafayette University, PA, USA

Fuh Blaise Ngwana, Turkish Government Scholarship, University of Bolu, Turkey

Vanessa Fongwa, MasterCard Foundation Scholarship, University of Gulu, Uganda

Chia Perpetua, MasterCard Foundation Scholarship, University of Edinburgh, UK

Tiku Roy, Susquehanna University, PA, USA

Che John, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA

Joyce Ngaha, MasterCard Foundation Scholarship, Africa University, Mutare, Zimbabwe

Njeungue Njionwou, Russian Government Scholarship, BMST University, Moscow

Merveille Moukam, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada

Edmond, Kelly, and Vanessa captured few hours before their departure to Kenya where they would go through an orientation to prepare them for their undergraduate studies.

Open Dreams Masters Scholars

Raphael Abine, Commonwealth Scholarship, University of Portsmouth, UK

Metoh Franklin, University of Strathyde, UK

Edwin Mikah, Commonwealth Scholarship, Heriot-Watt University, UK

Steve Kenfack, Purdue University, Indiana, USA

Ndum Zavier, Italian Government Scholarship, Politecnico Di Milano, Italy

Lizette Neh, Jiangxi University Of Finance and Economics, China

Open Dreams PhD Scholars

Miki Gilbert, Commonwealth PhD Scholarship, University of Reading

Elvis Delamonyuy, Commonwealth PhD Scholarship, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Frankline, currently pursues a Masters degree in the UK where he learns how to design sustainable autonomous systems. He intends to use these skills to help farmers back home maximize their yields

We are extremely proud of all their accomplishments as they explore their academic pursuits, some in countries where they hardly speak the language. Some of our scholars in Russia that have had to learn the language and take intensive Mathematics Oral Exams come to mind. All told, over 60 Open Dreams scholars have excelled to receive full scholarships over our first 5 years in operation, quite an accomplishment and a testament to the talent and willpower of our scholars.

Over the years, Open Dreams has established a strong partnership and relationship with a couple established scholarship platforms – the MasterCard Foundation focusing on higher education for African Youth and the Commonwealth Scholarship, which provides Masters-level scholarships at British-linked universities. We owe a considerable debt of gratitude to these 2 organizations in particular, as they’ve been an instrumental part in providing meaningful opportunities for our scholars. We’d like to highlight our strong performance at Ashesi University, a school founded by a former Microsoft Executive, where we currently have 7 scholars attending together, providing a sense of community and culture away from home.

Other alumni have applied their leadership skills during their undergraduate years and have received further recognition for their efforts. Two of our alumni, Theodore Kanjo and Ngosong Clement, will be attending the Clinton Global Initiative Summit held in Edinburgh this upcoming April 2020. Finally, following the co-mentorship and guidance of our co-founder Blaise, Junior Beauclair Choumkwa Mbanya recently awarded the distinguished Schwarzman Scholarship to study at Tsinghua University in Beijing. This is a 1-year intensive program in China developing future government and public policy leaders around the world, using a global perspective.

Breaking Ground on a New Mission Center in Yaoundé

The state of the political situation in Cameroon, especially in the Northwest region, where our Bamenda center is located, has been nothing short of devastating & crippling. Weeks-long power outages, total lock-down on the streets, roadblocks and lack of free-flowing travel has stifled our operations in Bamenda. Oftentimes, students and staff alike have faced security checks in an out of cities, frequently risking their lives in the midst of active gunfire. Now, as always, safety of our scholars and staff are of the utmost importance. To this end, Mr. Akaba James and Claudette have vacated Bamenda for safety reasons, relocating to Yaoundé. We do still have outstanding mentors and organizers leading the helm in Bamenda, but as of now, the status of the Bamenda center is in flux. This article by the Human Rights Watch Report gives a non-partisan account of the acts of atrocities on the ground across Cameroon.

After the conclusion of a successful Summer Academy program, coordinated, planned and instructed by Open Dreams alumni themselves, we embarked on a mission to locate and find a permanent space in Yaoundé. We had been renting a space in central Yaoundé for the duration of the Summer Academy, but the circumstances necessitated a permanent solution going forward. As you may recall from our 2018 Annual Review, we cited opening a Yaoundé center as the most-critical and logical next step in our expansion. We’re happy to report that dream is now a reality. While we officially signed the lease in early September and have been using the space since then, we officially christened the Yaoundé Center with a Grand Opening event on December 21st accompanied by a full array of speeches, lessons and guest visitors. Will Romine, the Deputy Public Affairs Officer at the US Embassy who gave the key-note address for the day at the opening inspired young Cameroonians to take ownership of their destiny. We’re looking forward to bringing larger groups into our new facility with 3 separate teaching rooms. The new address for the center is:

Open Dreams,

Chapelle Obili (Opposite Auto Ecole Canadienne)

PO Box 8687 Yaoundé, Cameroon

The classrooms are equipped with computers, steady electricity and internet service, which weren’t always a guarantee in Bamenda, but we’re still planning on adding more computers. Eventually, we envision utilizing this space as an official SAT & TOEFL Testing Center. We look forward to continuing the expansion of our efficacy and reach through this brand new center in Yaoundé.

Expanding our Partnerships via Outreach and Engagement across the World

“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” The foundation of Open Dreams has been built on building constructive partnerships with allies of common interest. Whether with mentors, government officials, local community members, universities or education organizations, we have secured more success by building strong relationships. Our country director, Akaba James, partook in the 4th Annual HALI Indaba from April 25th – 29th, held in Ghana. The High-Achieving, Low Income (HALI) Organization brings together higher-education access organizations across the African continent and has continued to be a pillar of sourcing new outlets for our scholars. The Indaba is an opportunity for leaders of these Education-Access Organizations (EAOs) to share best practices for supporting high-achieving, low-income African students in their pursuit of higher education internationally. Each member organization is given a forum to present their updates, collaborate on shared challenges, identify new scholarship opportunities and network with college admission officers who are invited to attend. The HALI Organization has been instrumental for sourcing MasterCard Foundation Scholarships, providing educational opportunities as well as sharing best practices of more established education organizations, whose success we aspire to emulate and learn from. We look forward to the upcoming HALI Indaba in May 2020 to be held in Kenya where Akaba James will once again, represent Open Dreams.

While many universities across the globe offer scholarships specifically targeting scholars found at Open Dreams, it’s imperative to establish mission-critical relationships with universities and admission officers to learn more about these opportunities. Since its inception, Open Dreams has provided a platform wherein universities could source scholarship-worthy applicants and wherein talented students can seek out and identify relevant scholarships. Our core belief is that talent is universal, but opportunities are not. To this end, we invited and hosted admissions officers Christina Callahan and Natalie Fischer of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and Johns Hopkins Universities (Baltimore, MD) in the last week of September 2019. Christina & Natalie gave riveting presentations of their respective schools in front of an assembly of more than 100 aspiring scholars in Yaoundé. In addition, Lucien Giordano & David Ingram from Dulwich College’s International Outreach department came to visit Cameroon in October 2019, proposing an exchange-student initiative between Dulwich and Open Dreams scholars as well as additional support as Dulwich strives to positively influence education organizations outside of their home base in England. Lucien and David travelled across Cameroon meeting with local leaders, talking to students and generally getting better acquainted to Open Dreams and Cameroon.

In July 2019, the MasterCard Foundation, one of our largest benefactors of scholarship opportunities, hosted their annual orientation session at Rochester University in upstate New York. This year, co-founder Cristina Bernardo Kullberg and Akaba James made the journey, meeting with Suzanne Hunter of African Leadership Academy as well as two of our very own Open Dreams scholars who were in attendance, Odette Animbom (University of Botswana) & Joyce Ngaha (Africa University, Zimbabwe). Suzanne has been one of our strongest collaborators, opening doors and identifying opportunities for countless scholars as well as our staff over the past 3 years.

Our country director, Akaba James, has persistently enhanced his own superpower capabilities as a professional educator and counselor, participating in numerous educator conferences around the world. In April 2019, James attended a selective Counselor Trip to Vanderbilt University as well as a Chicagoland Tour of Colleges. During the summer, he attended the International Association for College Admission Counseling Conference in London, Canada along with a tour of colleges in Southern Ontario, Canada. Finally, James represented Open Dreams at the Global Teaching Dialogue in Washington DC as part of the Fulbright Teacher Exchanges program bringing together teachers from across the globe to discuss best practices for globalizing curricula and improving education quality through information exchanges. Each of these intercultural programs has brought tremendous exposure for Open Dreams through James’ experiences and undoubtedly has opened countless doors via the strong bonds and relationships he has formed over the years. We continue to support and encourage our staff to take advantage of these opportunities and hope to have more representation of the organization going forward.

Scholar & Alumni-Led Initiatives Empowering Local Communities

Open Dreams scholars and alumni have been proactive in figuring out ways to enrich and embolden their communities through giving back, a selfless act that resonates especially deeply during this time of turbulence within Cameroon. As Gandhi was fond of saying, “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” To that end, we are proud to have witnessed numerous self-started initiatives that have helped local neighbors. The 2019 Summer Academy in Yaoundé was initiated, proposed, planned and produced by alumni Elvis Tanwi and Muki Hoffman along with significant support from Maeva Che, Edwin Mika, Frankline Metoh and Clement Ngosong among a host of other scholars who joined together to bring life to the first ever summer academy in Yaoundé. We are extraordinarily proud this enormous accomplishment as it has been our very dream to witness the propagation of the Open Dreams ethos – teaching and mentoring the next generation. Along with help from our special mentor, Tientcheu Alic Ferdinande, the pre-mentees completed a rigorous curriculum that included essay writing, public speaking, university research, computer programming, community service and SAT & English proficiency exam preparation. The fruits of their labor have been revealed through a drastic improvement of overall SAT Scores with the class average score around 1250 – 1300, setting a new bar of excellence. We have had a couple scholars score in the 1400s and while we’re still awaiting a perfect score of 1600, at this rate, nothing will take us by surprise. We are also blessed to have incredible mentors and guest speakers gracing the center with their presence. One esteemed mentor, Jecolia, took time out of her very busy work schedule at Google to present a session on Technology of the Future to our students in Douala. These types of presentations not only piques their intellectual curiosity, as many of our scholars go on to major in computer science, but gives them a invaluable insights from one of the foremost, leading tech companies of our time.

Edumail is a books & note-sharing organization that formed in response to the lack of formalized school curriculum being taught in the Northwest Region due to the ongoing crisis. The idea for Edumail formed during the Open Dreams summer academy as participants discussed ways they could help peers in the Anglophone region. While it has been a team activity with many co-founders, its managing directors are Forsi Ferdinand and Nebah Elvis Tanwie with other co-founders John Njende Junior, Akonteh Alosius, Tagha Wilfred, Agongtugsiri Lucia Chebi, Faith Nchotu Ndinyanka, Nebah Desmond Fongwa, Eleih Elle Etian Junior and Mbiseh Clara Forbuzo. Other contributing members are Nchofong Tagha, Garba Dickson, Mbakwa Ndi, Jarvis Nkou Ndong, Bemsimbom Nkuo and Achumbom Hosea. Thus far, Edumail has impacted over 300 students by mailing books and notes via bus agencies so that even those with no access to school may be able to keep pace with their peers under such treacherous conditions.

Sonia Buma, having recently graduated from McGill University, initiated a fledgling non-profit, called Hope for Cameroon, helping women who have been internally displaced (IDPs) due to the conflict stand once again on their own feet by starting an economic enterprise. This valiant and much-needed initiative, by one of our most esteemed Open Dreams alumni and sister of co-founder Blaise, has provided relief for over 300 refugees in Douala, raising over $15,000 from small and large donors alike, and building out operations on the ground. More importantly, her objective to establish meaningful economic opportunities for those that are most in need represents a sustainable model that can self-perpetuate and impact not only the women but their families and communities as well. Her future plans include establishing a business training program as well as providing small loans to IDP women to kickstart their crafts business.

Finally, in order to foster a collaborative and uplifting environment at Open Dreams, one must first be inspired and motivated. Two of our alumni, Peace Nyaba and Ramish Shu, took it upon themselves to fill the hearts with pride of each remotely affiliated member of Open Dreams through their masterfully created and produced Open Dreams Anthem. The beautiful, melodic voice of Peace resembles that of an inspirational Disney movie with its catchy lyrics and harmony. Fortunately for us, we’ve been quick to adopt this as our official anthem and it’ll be a cornerstone of our program to instill inspiration for future generations to achieve their dreams.

As a keyway to impart positive change on others, community service has always been a central tenet of Open Dreams and we look forward to reporting more milestones in the future. If you’re a scholar or alumni reading this, we hope to see your project and name counted among those here as well as those that we may have missed but are creating tremendous impact in your community. Among all of the outcomes and success Open Dreams has had over the past 5 years, it has been the scholar-led community service initiatives that resonate loudest for our organization and enable our efforts to create impact above and beyond the scholars who sit in our classrooms.

Milestones Reached in through Effective Fundraising Efforts

In order to continue to create positive impact, Open Dreams has made further inroads in our quest to expand our fundraising verticals through more partnerships and initiatives. After researching a number of fundraising platforms that offer more resources and guidance on fundraising best practices, we partnered with Global Giving to accelerate our efforts. This has proven to be an immediate boost as we joined their September 2019 Accelerator program in which – over the course of 4 weeks – we raised over $10,000 from over 70 unique donors. We were especially heartened by the many alumni donations we received, and we cherish all donation, large and small, as it’s one step closer to our shared goal. By graduating this program and meeting Global Giving’s minimum objectives ($5000 from 50+ donors), we have qualified as a “superstar” organization, opening the doors for other donors & corporations to “discover” our organization. The fact that Global Giving headquarters is located in Washington DC was a key factor in our decision-making process as we were able to have 2 separate face-to-face meetings with the team.

Over the summer, we reinforced our technology resources with 4 new Laptop computers, printer ink cartridges and a new projector along with over 100 books to enhance our scholars’ reading capabilities. With support from the HALI Access Network, we have received 30 SAT Exam vouchers, 100 CSS Profile Waiver fees and over 40 scholars have taken the DuoLingo English Proficiency Exam free of charge, amounting to over $20k of in-kind donations. We also devised a “Valentine’s Day Initiative” to ‘gift your loved one a Valentine’ in February by sending chocolates & other favors, raising nearly $3,000 in the process.

Altogether, 2019 stood out as our most successful fundraising year, but the bar is still much higher. Now that our ‘business model’ is proven over the past 5 years, we have achieved significant milestones to report in a potential grant application. To that end, Grant Writing is our primary objective for 2020 and it’s our primary ‘ask’ to our supporters. While we wish we had the in-house skills in this area, we are keen to learn how we can expand our fundraising through grants and we appreciate any context or introductions. While fundraising is not our area of expertise, as an agile & nimble organization that has steered the ship through ups, downs and turbulent waters, we are flexible enough to adapt, learn and grow in this mission-critical area going forward.

More Work to Do – Lofty Goals and Aspirations for 2020

While we have laid a solid foundation in our first 5 years, the road is not yet complete and there is more building to be done. Thinking of the many paths Open Dreams can navigate over the next few years, the one that reverberates the most in order to create sustainable impact is through starting a social impact business. A social impact business focuses on creating sustainable positive impact while solving a critical business need. From Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank and commonly known as the forefather of social impact businesses to Leila Janah and her organization Give Work extolling the virtues of creating jobs – specifically outsourcing high-skilled labor to lower-income countries - to reduce the impact of poverty, the social impact business model is a proven one that can help alleviate generational problems.

This vision succinctly aligns with our forward-thinking objectives that we need to address as we grow an alumni base of educated, hungry and motivated scholars:

1. Gives Alumni a reason and place to return home post-graduation. This is a salient topic that is being discussed and debated within HALI and the MasterCard Foundation. MasterCard has embarked on a Future of Work initiative using technology to stimulate more employment opportunities within Africa. If the employment opportunities at home pale in comparison to abroad, how can we encourage our alumni to find their way back home?

2. Allows scholars to apply entrepreneurial and technical skill-sets learned at university. Many of our scholars earn degrees in computer science, agricultural technology, electrical engineering and other technical degrees. How can this translate to an economically-viable opportunity within Cameroon? How can we foster a spirit of entrepreneurship and ownership of solving a problem?

3. Engages with and benefits the local community. In order to ingrain our organization within the community, we must first exemplify an organization that cares about the community. When we talk to local teachers and leaders, there can sometimes be a sense of angst and resentment against Open Dreams “stealing” their best and their brightest only to study abroad and never to return home. This is a valid concern and through this initiative, we hope to demonstrate that there is a “full circle” solution whereby scholars return home to a great opportunity. How can we solve local problems – internet & power outages, high unemployment, public amenities – with business solutions?

4. Provides a continuous source of funding for Open Dreams education initiatives. While we have improved our fundraising efforts and have opened 2 centers, we have not yet reached a trajectory by which we can easily scale by hiring more staff, deploying resources and transporting our mentorship model to other regions across Cameroon, Africa and the World. If we truly desire to grow and help more youth, we need to be able to demonstrate a sustainable source of funding. Part of the social impact’s profits will be used to support efforts within our education non-profit.

How can we best engage with our youth, earn their buy-in and ensure we’re solving a critical problem that’s endemic to Cameroon? As a very competitive athlete, I’m a big believer in utilizing competition as a way to extract the best and most resourceful ideas within a limited amount of time. Thus, in the very near future, we will be hosting our very first Open Dreams Social Impact Competition that will be aimed at selecting both a 1) social issue to tackle and 2) business idea that addresses this problem. We are still in the preliminary stages of designing the competition, but the intent will be for it to become an Open Dreams-backed business venture led by scholars and alumni to create an impact at home. We believe this is the next logical step for Open Dreams to embark on that will meet a number of objectives that we have yet to address with a definitive answer. We believe this approach of building a sustainable & impactful business will deliver that answer.

Concluding Thoughts

“No matter how bleak or menacing a situation may appear, it does not entirely own us. It can’t take away our freedom to respond, our power to take action.”

All told, it has been a fruitful and abundant yet trying and challenge-filled year at Open Dreams. Throughout these turbulent and uncertain times, our team has stood steadfast and resolute in delivering the promise we made to our scholars and ourselves. If there is one word to sum up the year, it would be “Resiliency” best exemplified by the eternal optimism of each individual that walks through the doors of Open Dreams. Like the frozen ice caps at the peak of a mountain, we are just beginning to unlock the massive human potential that lies beneath the frozen glacier. Like water flowing down the mountain, each scholar embarks on their own path, resiliently moving around obstacles that stand in their way. If there are rocks, dams or anything obstructing their path towards their destination, like water flowing downhill, that Open Dream Scholar will certainly find a way to navigate around those challenges. Just as each stream grows into a creek or river, so too will our scholars develop into becoming the best versions of themselves through education. Open Dreams simply provides the sunshine and platform to unearth that incredible potential. It has been my greatest pride to play a small role in this team endeavor and I am incredibly excited and hopeful to see what’s in store for the future.

Onwards and Upwards,

Hans Kullberg


26 views0 comments


bottom of page