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Theology Major’s Bold Vision to Empower Africa

Alex YemeckHoustonian Alex Yemeck, a 37-year-old part-time student of Theology and founder of a charitable organization for orphans and survivors of abuse, is advocating boldly for a bright point of light across the Atlantic Ocean. Alex is a devout Catholic and part of the African migration to the U.S. and elsewhere. He wakes up and falls asleep every day excited about improving a budding orphanage in Yaoundé, Cameroon, the city where he grew up.

“Right now, there are 17 orphan boys, children who had never before seen electricity, only known mud huts and always had to go to the river for drinking water,” Alex said.

The orphanage was built quickly over the summer after its founder, Fr. Aristide Ze, was relocated from the previous site to Yaoundé.

Dire Need Called for Determined Action

During a discussion in an Ethics class on the virtue of generosity, Alex told visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy Stephen Striby about the construction need. “Aristotle says that the virtuous person gives the right amount of help at the right time to the right people,” Striby remembered teaching.

Boys at orphanage in Cameroon, Africa

Alex recalled, “After I told Professor Striby about the urgent situation, he made a generous initial donation and started a GoFundMe page. With that, we built the orphanage, supplied three modern toilets and dug a clean water well connecting to a new water tower. These are things that only the rich have in Cameroon.”

Grim Reality Meets Courageous Love

Yemeck aims for much more than decent accommodations. He envisions changing an entire culture for the better.

Boys drinking water from well at orphanage in Cameroon, Africa

“When someone collapses on the streets here in the U.S., strangers call an ambulance,” he said. “The symbolic response is love that comes from valuing the human being. But in Africa, if someone falls in the street, in many cases passersby just keep walking. In those places, life is not sacred.”

Boys cooking with a pot at orphanage in Cameroon, Africa

Alex believes Christian values, emphasizing the primacy of the human being, make societies thrive. Professor Striby said, “Alex and Fr. Aristide have bigger plans to build up the culture, based on values of the Catholic faith. They want to establish a Catholic school and another orphanage for girls at the site and develop it into a first-rate Catholic institution.”

Teaching Purposeful Self-Sufficiency

In a Philosophy class, a familiar question emerged: “Why can’t Africa lift itself up?” Though the stock answer is the continent is a victim of oppression by larger, more powerful countries, given the dramatic emergence of China as a global leader, Alex believes that argument doesn’t work anymore.

“Success is having a good life with strong values, knowing that people care for you,” he said. “I want these children to grow up knowing what it means to be a human being. Let’s start with giving them a better, safer place to live and learn. Let’s teach them how to love human beings. And let’s put these orphanages and schools all over the continent. In a few decades, these children will have a different thought process, and they can change the continent for the better.”

Looking ahead, Alex plans to develop a program that teaches job skills in agriculture, carpentry and information technology, introduce a curriculum and establish counseling services, all with the larger goal to help the orphans become self-sufficient.

UST helps every student find their purpose and educate themselves in alignment with it. “Everyone has a purpose, and our job is to figure out what it is,” Alex said. “My purpose is to take what I learn back to the orphans of my country so they can change Africa – and the rest of the third world – for the better.”

How To Help

Much more work remains to be done in Yaoundé. To learn more, visit the GoFundMe site.

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