One man has formed a link between 200 African schoolchildren and giving souls in south Louisiana.
Ikanga Tchomba rose from an impoverished village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to earn his doctorate and become an assistant professor at Baton Rouge Community College.
His story, told in The Advocate last September, and his desire to help his remote, war-torn village in the eastern Congo, encouraged many to give money and time to help children there earn an education.
High school students began collecting school supplies and building desks for the children of Kipombo, and one Baton Rouge nonprofit donated 13 computers.
“He’s passionate about helping his people,” said Jacob Fereday, 13, one of several boys who have spent Saturdays building desks.
As a child, Tchomba’s father encouraged him to seek education above all. Tchomba often tells how upset his family became when he lost his pencil on the way to class one day. His father had splurged, giving him a whole pencil when others at school shared pieces.
His village’s school ended after two years, so he walked about 7 miles each day to the next village. To reach college, Tchomba walked for two days.
“When you want to achieve your goal, I don’t see something that’s going to stop you,” he said in September.
When civil war raged near his home in the 1990s, Tchomba moved to the United States and earned a doctorate in Francophone studies at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Teaching French at BRCC, he told his story and inspired students to raise money and school supplies for his village school and started a small foundation called Afri-Kid.
After the story was published, he received emails and phone calls from people wanting to help.
Two French teachers at Baton Rouge Magnet High School, Michele Braud and Isabelle Shirazi, shared the story with classes to educate students on French-speaking countries like the Congo.
Because Tchomba was lucky to have a single pencil, they asked their students to pull out every writing utensil they had — pens, pencils, markers, map pencils.
“All classses were hundreds and hundreds of items,” said Braud. “We talked about what is need? What is education like around the world?”
Some students in the French club began collecting spare pencils and paper, and students were eager to give.
They dropped off four boxes with Tchomba in November and plan to continue.
“It made us realize how much we take advantage of small things like pencils,” said Victory Adikema, 15, who brought the supplies to Tchomba. “I lose about one pencil a day.”
Tchomba said the contribution excites him, not just because it helps his home village, but because it educates American students, too.
“It helps some local students know the value of a pencil,” he said. “For me, not only are they helping needy people, but they are helping people here know what they have.”
Adding to Tchomba’s collection, the Capital Area Corporate Recycling Council, which recycles used electronic equipment for people in need, donated 13 refurbished laptop computers to Afri-Kid this month.
When she learned that the 200 children at Tchomba’s schools had no real desks, Laura Fereday knew she could help. She leads Fearless, a Christian ministry that puts teens to work building wheelchair ramps and working on houses. Fereday and her husband developed a blueprint for a desk that could seat two students and break down flat for shipping.
“(Tchomba) believes that with all the horrible things that are happening in the Congo, education will help his people,” Laura Fereday told The Church of the Highlands. “I think our children today, so many of them don’t want to be in school, and it was such a treasure for him to receive an education.”
They have built four desks so far with a goal of 70. On one workday, Tchomba shared his story with the boys.
“No electricity, no shoes. I don’t think I could do that,” said 17-year-old Will Johnson, a member of the Fearless team.
A few woodworkers have come forward to help them build, and others have donated money to build the desks, which cost about $70 each.
“This particular project is a blessing to students in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, no question,” said Tom Fereday, “but it’s a blessing to these boys, too.”