Teach them to fish: Local foundation empowers youth through education

Published 12:10 am Thursday, August 19, 2021

By Janie Peterson
For the Clemmons Courier

This year has been the most difficult year of education for many. But for the youth of Likumba, Cameroon, it’s a dangerous civil war, not COVID, that keeps schooling from being easily accessible. Despite the obstacles, local physician Dr. Peter Robie aims to help educate and change the lives of the young people in Cameroon through his work for the Joseph-Mary Foundation (JOMAFO) in Clemmons.

Father Peter Nouck, a Cameroon native and priest at Holy Family Catholic Church, founded JOMAFO in July 2020. Nouck asked Robie, a fellow parishioner,  to become the executive director because of his extensive background of missionary work in the Caribbean during the 2000s. The foundation provides resources to feed and clothe the children, get them to school, and buy them school supplies. They also manage a health center and help sponsor orphaned children. But Robie believes the most important part of what they do involves education.

“Over the years, what we realized was that to really achieve permanent change, we need to focus on the education mission and what that organization evolved to was actually setting up schools that the children could come to,” Robie said.

The mantra of the foundation, “teach them to fish,” is inspired by the well-known proverb: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Instead of giving resources that are only temporarily beneficial, sending the children to boarding schools for education allows them to return to their villages with knowledge that will benefit their entire community for a lifetime and better generations to come.

“That’s sort of the theme we have in our foundation. We want to work with these young people to make them change agents as they get older to really institute things — become leaders for better crop management, water management, education, healthcare — rather than us coming in from the outside and providing our services,” Robie said.

Positivity is a crucial part of making it work.

“By nature I’m always an optimist. I guess to do mission work of any variety you really have to be,” Robie said.

This positive approach keeps Robie from feeling discouraged.

“Although our internet connections make us more aware of the bad things going on in the world, it’s actually a better place because of the efforts of aid agencies. So I always retain that optimistic attitude. We are having an impact on these young people in Cameroon,” Robie said.

The Joseph-Mary Foundation (JOMAFO) in Clemmons provides resources to feed, clothe and provide school supplies to young people in Cameroon.

It is too dangerous for nonnatives to travel to Likumba; nevertheless, Robie and his team are still able to maintain real connections with those in Cameroon.

“We keep up with all of them. We have Zoom communications, we talk at least once a month, if not more, with our team in Cameroon. The Cameroonian chapter is doing the actual work and the chapter here in Clemmons works to support their work,” Robie said.

Robie volunteers his time and talent locally too, working at a health care clinic in the Triad for those without medical insurance. He finds his local experience to be similar to the work he does in Cameroon.

“It really teaches you how to be a better person. I guess the big lesson I’ve learned looking after the uninsured people is that they had more to teach me than I had to provide them with help because they’re such wonderful people and so appreciative of what we do. The people that we help in Cameroon are identical to the people that I’ve helped locally,” Robie said.

“We’re all equal. We’re all human. We’re all the same.”

Robie urges locals to get involved and greatly appreciates the support for the foundation. For more information or to donate, go to joseph-maryfoundation.org