Albert Nyembwe knows the discomfort of walking so many miles that the soles of his shoes wear thin.
When he was a child living in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa, he walked to and from school an hour-and-a-half each way. Fortunately, his family could afford to buy shoes for him.
But it’s the poor kids in his homeland that Nyembwe thinks of to this day.
In an effort to help needy people in his homeland, the Cilongo Foundation, of which Nyembwe is executive director, is holding a shoes drive Saturday, Sept. 29 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the east shelter in Aquatore Park, 9100 Lincoln St. N.E. in Blaine.
The drive started Aug. 19 and ends this Saturday.
Helping those in need
The Cilongo Foundation is seeking shoes and socks in all sizes that will go to elementary through high school-age students in urban and rural Africa in Sierra Leone, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Liberia.
“The goal is to help those in need,” Nyembwe said about the reason he started the foundation.
“I know from experience the kind of difficulties they’re going through,” he said of the many students who must walk to school because an organized school bus transportation system does not exist in the African areas.
Nyembwe, who taught French and Latin for 25 years in his homeland, immigrated to America from Lubumbashi, Africa, in June 1995. He fled persecution following a turmoil in the Congo.
He founded the nonprofit Cilongo, which means brotherhood, in 2001. The mission of the organization is to support educational initiatives, to help provide education for those in need in Africa and to help students in the United States access scholarship opportunities for higher education. Mainly, it supports K-12 schools and 21st century English learning centers with financial contributions and material needs. The foundation believes education is a way out of poverty.
Cilongo Foundation also does diversity training presentations for businesses and schools, teaches French classes through community education and interprets and translates work in French, Spanish, Swahili and English.
Helping others is deeply ingrained in Nyembwe’s DNA. As a teen he served as a Crusader, a youth Christian movement similar to Scouting. As an adult, he served as a Boy Scout leader in the Congo. Also his Christian teachings and its principles of serving are a driving force behind his founding Cilongo, he said.
Last year the foundation – with the logo of a palm tree bordered by the French words Espoir, Croissance, Vie, meaning hope, growth and life – shipped 65 boxes of books, 12 computers and clothing to students in Africa. Also, it shipped bed sheets to West Africa.
In years past Cilongo has sent computers across the Atlantic and paid for students’ school tuition. One year, the foundation collected and donated 40 bicycles to students in Africa.
So far this year, the foundation has been able to buy about 175 pairs of shoes for the effort. “We would purchase them (during the year) when they went on sale,” Nyembwe said.
Thirty-five pairs have been donated to Constance Free Church in Andover for students in Western Congo.
Churches support cause
But the foundation doesn’t perform the generous deeds alone. Nyembwe found the costs for shipping the larger items unaffordable for his organization. In answer to his prayers, he teamed with Anoka United Methodist Church, which came forward and paid for shipping.
Good Shepherd Evangelical Covenant Church in Blaine, as well as other Twin Cities churches, have served both as drop-off locations for donated goods and have spiritually supported the foundation.
In the future Nyembwe hopes to secure a building for the foundation; a place to store donated items, to meet, to share African recipes and to attract more volunteers, he said.
Now a resident of Blaine, Nyembwe volunteers every other Friday at Good Shepherd Church’s food shelf and every other Friday at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids.
Shoe donations are starting to roll in for the fall shoes drive. New shoes, gently used shoes, tennis shoes, socks. All are welcome. But Nyembwe believes there are more people out there who want to help.
“The smallest amount we receive will help everybody,” he said.
Nyembwe sees himself as a channel to helping others. He receives his joy, he says, in meeting those who wish to help.
His joy is “to give what I receive freely and to see it in the hands of the needy people, and the gratitude those people express for American citizens,” he said.
“To solve problems. That’s the ultimate goal.”
For more information on the Cilongo Foundation, visit www.cilongofoundation.org or call 763-767-0986.
If you wish to donate funds to the shoes drive, send a check made out to the Cilongo Foundation, 13099 Isanti St. N.E., Blaine, MN 55449.
The Cilongo Foundation will hold a shoes and socks drive for students in rural Africa.
All sizes appreciated, new or gently used.
Sept. 29, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Aquatore Park, East Shelter,
9100 Lincoln St. N.E., Blaine.
For more infomation visit www.cilongofoundation.org or call 763-767-0986.
Elyse Kaner is at [email protected]