Hammer & NER Program Manager Touches the Lives of Students in Cameroon, West Africa
William Mbu has long held a love of teaching. Before he immigrated to the U.S. from Cameroon, West Africa, in 1996, he used his degree in English to teach ESL (Cameroon is bilingual English and French) and Modern Literature for 10 years. He came “straight to Minnesota” as he had friends and an aunt who lived here. His sister, Neh Kika, worked at Hammer and later became a nurse. William joined Hammer in 1997 and began his new career as a DSP. A Hammer education grant enabled him to attend Hennepin Technical College to learn computer basics.
William became a Program Manager at our west metro Plymouth home in 1999 and later, also began managing the Broadway home. “When I began working here, it dawned on me that I was still teaching,” William says. “I’m helping people set outcomes and goals, it’s a teaching process,” he says. “I saw people could realize their dreams. It is fulfilling. You go home and you know you have achieved something.” Today, William is the Program Manager at our west metro Hampshire and Holdridge homes.
William thinks back to his days as a teacher in Cameroon. “There were lots of students I thought were stubborn, but they had a disability, a special need. I found there was a need for special education.” In 2006, William and his wife, Lorraine, began saving their money and making plans—they wanted to build a school for children with special needs in their home country. “I wanted to provide inclusive education for them,” he says. “I wanted to build a place where children can play and learn and have a happy and safe environment. My dream is to change a child’s life. That’s what gives me pleasure.”
William would need to start from scratch. “I sent money to my sister in Cameroon, who bought the land for the school in 2004.” Following that, William began taking a couple of months each year to travel back to Cameroon to build the school. “The best way that Hammer & NER supported me was to allow me to leave and then return to my job here,” he says.
William is grateful for all the support and encouragement he has received to make his dream a reality. Years ago, William supported Bill Bieber’s son, Jim, at one of our west metro homes and got to know Bill, who is a visionary entrepreneur and respected business leader and a valued donor to Hammer & NER. William reached out to Bill for advice and explained what he was doing.
“I was struggling on my own,” William says. In 2013, while he was waiting to be approved for a 501(c)3, he wanted to talk to Bill. “We had finished the first floor of a two-story building,” he says. “I had never built anything before—never worked on a project like this. I sent Bill photos and our business plan. He was so happy with my persistence and focus and what was accomplished,” William says. “He asked what it would take to finish the project. We would need $100,000. Bill said he would help and provided $10,000. At the time, he was on the Board of Directors for TCF Bank, and they matched the donation!”
In 2013, right before Thanksgiving, the school was approved as a 501(c)3 nonprofit at about the same time the school’s second floor was being finished. The next year, William received the same support from Bill and TCF Bank. “He really wanted me to finish the school,” William says.
In 2015, the school was ready to open. William stepped down from his job to go back to Cameroon for two years. The school, named the Ss Mary & Elizabeth Nursery & Primary Academy, provides K-6 education and, like other schools in Cameroon, is bilingual French and English. “When they graduate, the kids go to secondary school. We give them a good foundation,” William says. “We can currently accommodate 75 children. At full capacity we will have 300 students.”
Unfortunately, the school had to close in 2017 due to the socio-political unrest in the southwest region where the school is located. William returned to the U.S. and to his position at the Hampshire and Holdridge homes. He hired security guards to protect the school, which remained closed until September 2022.
“Now things are calming down,” William says. “Students are coming back, and we have hired new teachers and are training them in the philosophy of the school, which is to accept people with disabilities and special needs and to see that they have talents and can contribute as citizens in their community and school. But it is a task for teachers to accept them.”
Laptops for Cameroon!
All the laptops at the school are refurbished laptops donated by Hammer & NER. “It is because of Hammer & NER that we have an up-to-date computer lab, and the kids have laptops and are learning how to use them,” William says. “It makes them feel special. When a child feels good about himself, he can learn.”
William will be traveling to Cameroon in February. “I go back each year to refresh myself and remember that I came from nothing,” he says. “In 30 or 50 years, someone will benefit from something I did. What we do is for posterity. We don’t have that mentality in Africa yet—we have to change minds.”
William will take a few more retired laptops from Hammer & NER with him. “I will be there for two months,” William says. “I have a manager who hires teachers and runs the school. While I am there, I will do some construction on the volunteer campus and spend time training teachers. I am grateful that Bill Bieber continues to help fund the project. I am where I am because of Hammer & NER and Bill Bieber. God has given each of us a gift, but we may fear the enormity of it. He will not give you a load you cannot carry. He knows you can accomplish it. My purpose, my intention, aligned for helping children, the future generation. That’s why I keep going. Keep marching forward and the path will open.”