Ozanam Students Combat Poverty through Education in West Africa

Produced by: Office of Marketing and Communications

May 3, 2016

At 17 years old, two Maryland high school students took action against the cycle of poverty that traps many young people in their families’ hometown of Bali Nyonga, Cameroon.

Education, they believed, was the key to success. So lifelong friends Langmia (Lang) Fonjoe ’17TCB and Junior Doh ‘17CPS created the ROC Foundation, a nonprofit that provides financial assistance for young people at two local secondary schools in the West African village.

Four years have passed. Today, Fonjoe and Doh are Ozanam Scholars at St. John’s University’s Queens, NY, campus. The selective undergraduate program emphasizes scholarly research, global citizenship, and Vincentian service. The 21-year-old philanthropists say they are gaining the knowledge and skills to expand their efforts.  “We’ve learned so much we can bring to the foundation,” said Fonjoe.

Solutions through Knowledge
Last December, the friends received a program grant to conduct their senior capstone research in Bali Nyonga, Bali for short. All Ozanam Scholars complete a capstone project. Fonjoe is focusing on education; Doh, on women’s health.  In April, with help from the program and student clubs like Haraya, they held their third “Roc the Mic” event to raise funds for their foundation.

“Lang and Junior reflect the mission and goals of the Ozanam Scholars Program,” said Deanne Southwell, Ed.D., Executive Director, Vincentian Institute for Social Action (VISA), which comprises mission-based University initiatives. “Through the requirements, students gain the tools to elevate their contributions to society while acquiring a meaningful understanding of the issues that hinder human rights and dignity.”

“The friends were committed to deepening their work in West Africa,” noted Carline Bennett, Director of the Ozanam Scholars Program. “We provided a platform for them to investigate critical social justice issues through travel, service, and research with faculty mentors.”

“The work that Fonjoe and Doh are doing to educate students in Cameroon bears the stamp of Vincentian social justice,” said Konrad Tuchscherer, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History and Director, Africana Studies Program. Tuchscherer is Fonjoe’s mentor; Preety Gadhoke, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Industry Professional, advises Doh.

A Way to Give Back
Though Fonjoe and Doh are cousins, they regard each other as brothers. “There’s no word for ‘cousin’ in Bali,” Fonjoe explained. He grew up in Maryland, but his parents maintain strong ties to Bali and belong to organizations that promote development in West Africa.

Doh came to America when he was eight and has lived near his brother ever since. “My mother,” said Doh, “used to tell me, ‘God has blessed you too tremendously for you not to help others.’”

“We were raised to be socially conscious,” Fonjoe said. He and Doh created the foundation because “we had to do something” about the poverty they saw whenever they visited Bali. They named their nonprofit for Roc Nation, the entertainment company founded by rapper Jay Z. “I’m a fan,” said Fonjoe.

To date, the foundation has provided financial assistance and academic awards for hundreds of students at Bali’s two independent schools. The tuition of $75 to $100 a year is challenging for many of the village’s families. Fonjoe and Doh worked hard to raise the funds. “We really hustled,” said Fonjoe. “We walked around with buckets, went to classmates, relatives, friends. It added up.”