This is how Robin remembers first meeting Ali…
He was in the eighth grade, and he was my best student. But a few months into the school year, he came to my classroom to thank me for teaching him and inform me that he wouldn’t be coming back to school, as the fees were too much for his family. This was about the equivalent of $30. As I had heard that many Peace Corps volunteers had hired students to do odd jobs around the house and then paid their school fees, this seemed like the easiest way for me to offer him the money without having him feel like it was a handout.
He came to work for me and taught me phrases in the local language (Mafa), taught me how to cook my favorite local dish (Follire), and prevented me from making any cultural faux-pas (I would have made many). He brought me to local markets and festivals and explained the traditions behind them.
When I left, I set him up to work with a friend of mine in a village with a bigger school and then we kept in touch over the years – first through the flimsy aerograms of international snail mail and then later through email and Facebook. He kept me posted on every event in his life, triumphantly sending me a photo of him as a teacher in front of his first class of students, proudly announcing that he had met the woman he wanted to marry, and most proudly, sending me a picture of his daughter, my namesake and the girl who he hoped to see break the impossibly thick glass (cement) ceiling that exists for women in northern Cameroon.
Fast forward to last Christmas, when his fourth child was born and he had been promoted to the position of principal of the elementary school where he worked. Though it was a public school, he was only allotted one teacher from the government – to teach 600 students from grades K-5. He himself took a class, and then he set about trying to raise funds among the villagers to pay the salaries of four other teachers he had hired to take the other classes. It was an impossible task, as most of the people in the village, farmers and cattle herders, were barely able to make ends meet from one month to the next. Finally, he asked me for help.
This is where Natasha and Kathy come in….
We had an event that raised enough to pay the teachers for a few months, hoping that our non-profit status would kick in and people could donate to our cause. In the meantime, we kept the school afloat through our own donations. Not wanting to have to depend on our charity forever, Ali had come up with a plan to earn the money himself, through an investment in cattle, the local industry. He had spoken to the village chief and several experts and had figured out exactly how much he would need as a loan. He was a master at Facebook messaging and would often message us in the middle of the night since he couldn’t sleep until he had figured out a solution.
Our plan was to meet this summer and find a way to make that loan happen. Ali was excited about all that he would be able to do for his school. He wrote all of us in the days leading up to his death to share the good news that his school had won an award and they were to be given some much-needed supplies by the government. He also announced that he had to figure out a way to teach his daughter to use a computer, because she would need that skill in the future.
This is where the story takes a tragic turn...
He rode off to school last Monday morning and paid his teachers for the last time. During the school day, he found out that one of his students was having problems at home that were preventing him from being able to focus in class. Ali put the child on the back of his motorcycle and drove off to meet with the parents. Six hundred students, and this is what he did if one of them was upset.
While he was driving, a car in front of him kicked up gravel under his bike and he lost control. The child, thankfully, fell off the bike in the other direction and was just injured. Ali fell in front of a truck. We know that Ali’s first thought would be one of gratitude that his student survived.
But Robin’s student didn’t.
This is how you can help...
It’s hard to know where to begin in setting a goal for funding everything that he did. We want to continue to fund the school, but now there is no one in charge to follow through. One thing we do need to do, though, is to make sure that his wife and children are taken care of. Here are just some of the ways that we are working to support Ali's family.
Ali’s brother, Abali, needs a plane ticket to get home to help sort things out.
In addition, until Ali’s wife remarries (the only way for an unskilled widow to survive), she will need money to pay rent, buy food and pay for the school fees for her children.
We are also looking into setting up accounts to help pay for the children's long-term education.
We are therefore setting our fundraising goal at $10,000.
We would like to be able to do more, but our priority is to help Ali’s family. If we manage to collect anything beyond our goal, Robin will find a way to get the money to the school through another former student who now works in the Ministry of Education.
Thanks to all of you in advance for the help that you offered and for the idea to start this page.
- Lea Prince
- Joan ODonnell
- Jane von Bothmer
- Kathleen Gorelick
- Tanja Manners
Organizer and beneficiary
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