February 12, 2015
Highlands alumnus Joannes Paulus Yimbesala, at the far upper right in orange, makes the sign for “up with school,” along with children at the Fujua government school in Fundong, Cameroon. To Yimbesala’s left is his twin brother, Joannes Petrus.
Las Vegas, N.M. – The Queen of England will honor a Highlands University alumnus for providing access to education for orphans and other vulnerable children in his homeland of Cameroon.
This June in London, Queen Elizabeth II will present Joannes Paulus Yimbesalu, 27, with one of the Queen’s Young Leaders awards as part of her Diamond Jubilee Celebration.
In 2011, Yimbesalu founded Hope For Children Cameroon, a nonprofit organization that has helped more than 300 children with school fees – and another 500 with textbooks, school supplies, school uniforms, and buckets for water – in three villages in the Kom region in northwest Cameroon.
Cameroon is part of the 53-country Commonwealth, a voluntary organization of independent sovereign countries that Queen Elizabeth heads.
“Our goal at Hope For Children is to educate every child one school, one village, at a time,” Yimbesalu said. “We identify vulnerable children in need – especially orphans and children with disabilities – and send them to school. This will help build a stronger generation of young people and also help end the crushing cycle of poverty.”
Yimbesalu has been tapped for other awards for his work, such as the 2014 Youth Courage Award from the United Nations Envoy on Global Education.
His organization also works to improve hygiene and sanitation at the three schools in Belo, Njinikom and Fundong.
“In 2014, we installed toilets at these schools so the children and teachers would not have to defecate in open pits or the bush. Improving sanitation helps prevent the spread of deadly diseases like cholera. Also, in Cameroon girls often shy away from school because they don’t have private toilets. School absenteeism has dropped significantly since we installed the toilets,” Yimbesalu said.
While primary education is mandated in Cameroon, Yimbesalu said parents bear the burden of paying the fee for their children to attend school, which many can’t afford. He knows first hand how hard parents struggle to pay the fees earmarked for teachers’ salaries.
“My mother was never well educated because she was a girl, but she was very determined that all four of her sons would go to school. As a single mom, she worked tirelessly day and night frying peanuts that we would help her sell at the roadside. She also sold firewood. Sometimes we would go to bed without food so we would have enough money for school,” Yembesalu said.
In 2008, he conducted a malaria health study among school-aged children in Belo as part of his B.S. in clinical laboratory sciences from the University of Buea, Cameroon. Most of the children in Belo lived in extreme poverty and didn’t attend school.
“I knew I had to do something more to help these innocent little children and decided that education was the only tool that could never be taken from them, as Nelson Mandela once said,” Yimbesalu said.
He established Hope For Children Cameroon with his own money, along with donations from family and friends. An online fundraiser with You Caring and a grant from Selfless 4 Africa raised more money. Donations for Hope for Children Cameroon may be made at www.hope4childrencameroon.org
Yimbesalu lives in Toronto and travels to Cameroon to oversee his nonprofit. His twin brother, Joannes Petrus, and cousin, Miranda Kijem, also lend a hand. A board of directors helps implement projects.
Yimbesalu said his education at Highlands gave him a strong foundation for success. He earned his M.S. in biology in 2011, the same year he was named Student of the Year and served as the first international student president for the Graduate Student Senate.
Biology professor Carol Linder was Yimbesalu’s adviser and he also worked as a graduate research assistant in her Reproductive Biology Laboratory.
“Working with Dr. Linder provided me a platform for both academic excellence and leadership. What I learned in her classes and in her lab made it easy for me to get a research job at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Dr. Linder also encouraged me to pursue my passion for community service,” Yimbesalu said.
“Joannes Paulus cares deeply about global issues for women and children and has the rare gift for effecting change,” Linder said. “He’s a very gutsy and fearless leader in overcoming barriers for causes he is passionate about. He was active in UNICEF and Amnesty International while at Highlands.”
Linder said Yimbesalu also distinguished himself presenting his research at conferences.
Yimbesalu is applying for the Ph.D. program in applied public health at the University of Toronto and is also pursuing research positions in Toronto.
“Over 24 million kids die every year from preventable diseases like malaria and cholera. It’s critical that we find better ways to prevent these deaths. I want to help with that in Cameroon, while also working to expand Hope for Children,” Yimbesalu said.