Born in Mankon, a rural place located at the heart of Bamenda in Cameroon, Eric Ngang was destined for exploits and scholarships were going to play a vital role in his journey. Born third in a family of six, he was naturally intelligent. Growing up in abject poverty, he would admire other kids attending good schools in school uniforms. Probably hard to imagine but something as trivial as going to school in a school uniform was a big deal to young Eric whose mother barely afforded to send him to school.

Eric’s academic journey began at Presbyterian Primary School in Ntahturu, one of the enclaved neighborhoods in Mankon. He would excel in all his subjects but he would be sent away from school because of late payments, bringing him and his loving mother distress.

In a dark place sun seems to have smiled down on mother and son when one of his aunts residing in the city called Doula asked his mother to send him to her. She was offering to send him to school in exchange for looking after her children. Eric was sent to the city to access better education while taking care of his aunt’s kids. He enrolled in a new school and continued to excel in his studies in spite of his circumstances. His academic reports continued to be a marvel to those who read them.

In a twist of events upon completing his primary school education Eric’s aunt decided to bring the arrangement to a halt. She could not take him further. Eric was sent back to his mother who received him with open arms despite the financial challenges she was experiencing at the time. She then enrolled Eric into Santa Government High School. This was only possible because she had borrowed money from a loan scheme. Witnessing his mother’s unabated drive to send him to school, Eric worked even extra hard. He was inspired by his mother’s belief in education. Eric’s mother was sold out to the idea that education was the bridge to Eric’s success.

Eric consecutively came first in class. Having struggled for a while Eric’s mother decided to take Eric’s report to one of his uncles. She went there looking for support but what she got was more that support. Having read Erics’ report, the uncle gladly offered to move Eric to a boarding school and sponsor his education. Going to a boarding school meant a lot for Eric considering his background. This is the point where Eric’s story took a complete turnaround for the better. Having been enrolled in a boarding school, Eric kept excelling. In form 5, Eric was made a Senior Prefect in recognition of his leadership skills and growing sagacity.

Upon completing his ‘A’ levels, Eric’s uncle experienced financial turbulences forcing Eric to sit for a year. Coming to terms with his circumstances, Eric took a job as a math teacher at Nacho Bilingual Comprehensive High School (NCBHS). After a year of saving with the help of his dear uncle, Eric enrolled for a program in Environmental sciences at the University of Buena, Cameroon. Even though Eric would experience some accommodation and resource challenges his friends would step in to support. After a while his uncle got back to his feet and continued to be pillar of strength to Eric. He saw something special each time he looked into Eric’s eyes.

Upon completing his degree program in 2003, Eric returned back home. He felt there was much he could contribute toward addressing the glaring environmental challenges facing his people. He was allowed to volunteer by a local NGO working on rural development and environmental protection issues. He spent 18 months of invaluable learning, skills development, and contribution to the work of the NGO. With these skills acquired, he applied and was recruited as the Coordinator of the umbrella network of NGOs in his Region (North West Association of Development Organizations (NWADO)). NWADO comprised of 120 NGOs and community-based groups working on diverse community issues, including human rights protection, social justice, collaborative resource management, and environmental protection.

Through Eric’s ideas and inspiring leadership, the NGO transformed into a reference for other NGOs in Northwest Cameroon and beyond. While working for this NGO Eric began building interest in environment and governance issues. Eric then founded Action Group on Governance (AGGEM), an NGO that engages diverse actors who are harnessing their potentials to build sustainable communities. While working with communities he developed interest in gaining additional knowledge and skills needed to address the challenges faced by communities in Cameroon and beyond. He then applied for the Australian Government Scholarship. Having passed the interviews he was enrolled at University of South Australia for an MSc. Environmental Management and Sustainability which he completed in 2013.

Upon finishing his master’s studies he returned to Cameroon, focused on his organization, while teaching at a local University called ICT University. Eric did a series of community projects received funding from various sources including the Australia Awards Grant program and the SELAVIP Foundation development and protect a water catchment to enhance access to water basic resource for communities in Mukwebuh-Mankon and empower local farmers to enhance their productivity using their local knowledge and practices. It is at this point that while reflecting on his work and engaging with literature he discovered the gap he would seek to bridge in his PhD studies. He then developed a PhD proposal which was then picked up by the University of Birmingham in 2018. Eric got awarded a Global Challenges PhD scholarship to do a PhD with the University of Birmingham. Today Eric has already passed his viva and continues to engage his community through his NGO. He has won various grants for projects in Mankon.

To date Eric got funding for his studies from prestigious sources, including the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, Australia Government Development Scholarship, National Geographic Society Early Career Grant, Global Challenges Ph.D. Scholarship, and ESRC IAA Postdoctoral Fellowship to name a few. This is in addition to travel grants to all continents, where he met amazing people and learned about different cultures. Others have sought to know how he successfully blended academic pursuit with community engagement, civil society, and development work which is something he is highly passionate about.

The story of Eric teaches us the importance of remaining connected to community and constantly developing our skills. Giving back to community opens doors for us as it opened several doors for Eric. He found purpose in the challenges facing his community and it is that purpose that made him the right candidate for the many scholarship awards and grants he got from very prestigious institutions. Eric had to overcome many headwinds and he overcame them without excuse and explanation. He learnt leadership skills from engagement and lessons offered by life. He believed when it was difficult to believe. He worked diligently in his studies which made him stand out in all competitions. He had to do the impossible and uncomfortable to be the man he is today. He continues to implement projects that uplift the lives of people living in Mankon.

Find hope and courage from Eric’s stirring story. If Eric did it, you too can do it. It does not matter where you are right now in your life, learn what you can from Eric’s story and author your own story. Let your story inspire hope and courage to others who will come after you. Remain connected to community because at the end of the day, community is all we have.

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