Here is a very heartwarming and inspirational story from Cameroon about a teenager who beat the odds stacked against him to become a success story and a role model. Orginally published by RPVC Bill on his blog, 27 months.
Sometimes, it’s the small successes that make everything worthwhile. This isn’t a story about a Gates Foundation grant, a fabulous new software project, African tech startup, or a microfinance program designed to serve the needs of thousands. Rather, it’s the story of a single young Cameroonian who through his own grit, determination, talent, discipline and tireless effort made a bright future for himself. His name is Simon, but everyone (and I do mean everyone) in Buea knows him as “Wise Man” now.
Wise Man is just nineteen, and the youngest cyber café owner in Buea, probably the southwest of Cameroon—maybe even the entire country.
Simon was a gangly kid of seventeen when I first met him, back in the tail end of the rainy season of 2006. He lived with his family in a ramshackle house in Sandpit surrounded by avocado, plantain and banana trees. We were practically neighbors, so I saw Simon and his family nearly every day. His father is a retired prison warder and his mother does what many Cameroonian women do, which is cook and care for the extended family living in the house. Simon’s parents, I learned, had invested their modest means in his education and imbued him with a strong sense of morals and responsibility. He struck me right off the bat as an unusually sharp, curious kid.
The job market for young Cameroonians like Simon isn’t the most promising, to say the least. Back then, he found occasional work hauling water to mix cement at construction sites. It was hard going even for a young, able-bodied teenager. The pay was meager at best, and the builders had a habit of postponing payment for his work, often indefinitely.
Simon had a strong interest in computers, so I waived the enrollment fee for the computer training program I’d started at the Teachers’ Resource Centre. He jumped at the opportunity. He sped through the required coursework, took additional classes and earned the first-ever computer training attestation issued by the centre. His thirst for knowledge was something to behold. To this day, he remains my star student—an Outlier in the truest Gladwellian sense.
Attestation in hand, Simon landed a job working at a busy cyber café near the University of Buea. In time, he was managing the place and earning a respectable salary. But he didn’t stop there. No, Simon had his sights set on bigger things: he wanted to take what he’d learned and open his own cyber café.
With a vote of confidence from Hans and myself, Simon was permitted to join a traditional savings group called a njangi which met once a month in a dusty outdoor courtyard. Members included police commissioners, tradesmen, business owners and the like. Simon’s age pegged him as the youngest member by nearly a decade. Even so, he committed a healthy portion of his salary to the pool each month and eventually walked away with 75,000 francs (about $150). This, together with some small personal loans, served as his startup capital.
Many months of hard work later, Simon is now the proud owner of a cyber café called “Master Planner” located on a busy footpath in the heart of Molyko. Since he opened last year, he was forced to abandon his Camtel dial-up connection (too slow and problematic) in favor of WiFi broadband. This required the purchase of an antenna mast (pictured) and networking equipment which he financed in installments. The red and white painted mast is a symbol of achievement that marks his business as a serious venture. Simon couldn’t be happier with it.
Along the way, he’s learned the ropes of owning and operating a small business; keeping books, promoting his café, maintaining equipment, hiring people and often working around the clock. He sleeps stretched out across chairs in his café when he can.
Simon’s also achieved something remarkable that very few Cameroonians his age can claim: he’s created jobs. Master Planner’s generates enough revenue to pay a very livable monthly salary of 30,000 francs (about $60) for someone to fill his shoes as cyber café manager. Simon also engages local hardware technicians, software consultants, network engineers, painters, builders, carpenters, laborers and other tradesmen for contract work.
Recently, Simon donned a suit and was asked to speak at an event focused on entrepreneurship at the University of Buea. Assembled in the amphitheater were the top 5% of students drawn from the business, finance and banking departments along with professors and dignitaries from Yaoundé. Simon ran a PowerPoint presentation and told his story to a rapt audience of academic elites about how he became a successful entrepreneur, against all odds. Today, they seek him out for business advice.
Not too shabby for a young kid from Sandpit. Wise Man, indeed.Get 10 Free International Minutes - PINLESS