Risk is one of the fundamentals of life. As I witnessed the birth of my two sons David Alun in 2007 and Noah John in 2016, I realised that risk is the beginning of everything. David and Noah learned to crawl despite the bruises on their knees and elbows. They learned to walk notwithstanding of the many falls they endured. I realised that I too have gone through these same risks as has my two sons. Now, as I get older and gain greater consciousness of the world around me, somewhere along the way I experienced failure. At that point, most people try to eliminate risks from their lives. But where would I be without my sense of exploration, my willingness to learn, and my trying new things despite the possibility of failure?
Most of my life, I have had to take significant risks to be where I am today. I grew up in a district called New Bell in a suburb of Douala, Cameroon, West-Central Africa. I was raised by a single mum who had a third-grade education. After fleeing from her Village of Logbikoi due to abuse from her father, my mother and my grandmother walked over a hundred miles to settle in the City of Douala. Having been abused, my grandmother adapted herself to a risk-taking life to preserve her dignity.
I attended school in Cameroon until the age of 18. I have never met my biological father. To date, I don’t know who he was. I am the youngest of nine children having six older brothers and two sisters. In terms of my childhood memories, my mother always taught me, through physical discipline, to respect others and help others whenever I could. I lived in a single room of thirteen people, and this was the motivation to leave Cameroon at the age of 18 for a better life.
I moved to France on 9th July 1993 and lived there for three years. My goal was to obtain further education but was unsuccessful as the education system was very different from that of Cameroon. I, therefore, decided to travel to the United States (Orlando, Florida) on 25th August 1997 after being granted a five years visa. I earned a diploma and a Certificate of Completion in English in the fall of 1997 from the University of Central Florida (Centre for Multilingual Multicultural Studies). I also completed a high school diploma on 6th March 1998.
In the fall of 1999, I enrolled at Valencia College in Orlando, Florida, where I was privileged to be elected the president of The International Student Association at Valencia Colege East Campus. I led around 1800 international students in this role from 1999 to 2002, during a time of significant change in America.
It was on 15th January 2002 while studying at Valencia College that I first experienced some difficulties with my mental health. I found myself homeless, living in the Orlando International Airport, for six months before completing my two years college degree. To survive, I queued for soup at the Salvation Army. Despite all of this, I managed to graduate with an Associate of Arts Degree (General Studies) on 4th May 2002. I was named as one of the most notable Valencia College students. I was invited back to the United States nine years later, on 11th February 2011, to speak in front of the entire faculty about my experience.
Upon my return to France, I was physically and financially in horrible shape. It was the French embassy that paid for me to travel back to France on 5th May 2002. The French government was prepared to provide me with accommodation, money and a university place in Grenoble in Southeastern France. Still, I refused to accept these offers as I suffered another mental health episode which affected my decision making at the time. In that mindset, I thought it was an easy option to stay in France.
I, therefore, arrived in the United Kingdom on 28th August 2002 with just £17 in my pocket. I applied for University and was accepted at The University of Southampton. I worked as a night-shift cleaner for the University of Southampton and a Waiter at Aramark Southampton Airport to pay for my accommodation and studies. I successfully graduated with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. I then applied for a scholarship for a master’s degree at Imperial College London. I was successful; however, I was unable to complete this as I suffered from another episode of illness. During my studies, I had returned to Cameroon and married, I, therefore, decided to cease further education, and on 25th June 2008, I began work as a cashier at Barclays Bank in London. On 10th October 2010, I decided to resume my studies whilst working. I enrolled at Queen Mary University in London. I was elected course representative and completed a master’s degree in banking and finance on 24th July 2012. I will always be grateful for all the help and support I have received at the School of Economics and Finance especially from Dr Leone Leonida and Dr Yioryos Makedonis. Their advice, guidance, help and support still a big part of my life’s journey today.
My wife Michele joined me in the United Kingdom on 10th February 2007; by then, I was already suffering another episode of my mental illness. I think this was caused by demanding school work and also the fact I had to prepare myself all the administrative immigration requirements for her to come to the UK. Michele did not know the extent of my illness before we got married, because of my denial to consider myself mentally disabled. I recalled that I was so ill that I accused her of trying to harm me. I even reported her to the local police. Today, with great effort, she has completed the Legal Practice Course (LPC) at BPP University of Law. She is working as an immigration Paralegal in a law practice in the City.
I feel deep in my heart that if I had not had a wife with the fortitude, strength and calmness of Michele, I could not have withstood the ordeals and tensions surrounding my illness and marriage. I am greatly indebted to her for all her help and support.
I will continue to bring wisdom, courage and a highly developed art of advocacy in what I do in my life’s journey. I hope that one day I will hopefully be able to share with my children and grandchildren my humble story.
I endeavour to be a Citizenship Ambassador, particularly helping the underprivileged in the world, in disadvantage places like the one in which I grew up, especially people from Sub Saharan Africa descend. I firmly believe that every person deserves the chance to achieve her/his dream. I am the first in my family, town and village to have gone this far in education. I wish to use the opportunity to inspire another generation of young people to visualise success and effect change in their local communities.