Concordian walks 310 km for education
The tragic news that gunmen stormed a private school in Cameroon — killing seven children and injuring 13 — in October 2020 hit home for Michel Thierry Bayiga, BA 15.
The Concordia alumnus was born and raised in the West-Central African country, where the ongoing five-year conflict between government security forces and armed separatists has displaced more than 700,000 civilians and forced another 63,800 across the border to Nigeria.
Motivated to make a difference, Bayiga started the Walk for Education Challenge in an effort to help send Cameroonian children to school.
“I'm really an advocate for education,” says Bayiga. “I believe that if people don't go to school, it will create a vicious cycle of underdevelopment and poverty. I think access to education is a way to help these children.”
To raise awareness of the situation and funds to send children to school, Bayiga set out to walk 10 kilometres every day during the month of May.
“My initial intention was to walk from Montreal to Ottawa in six days,” he says. “However, with the COVID-19 situation and the closing of the Ontario borders, I had to change my strategy.”
Bayiga began his daily walks alone, yet as he documented his journey on social media, through live Instagram videos and LinkedIn posts, more and more people began to join him until there was a group of five dedicated Montrealers who walked with him for the last 20 days.
To date the challenge has raised $6,060 — just over a third of Bayiga’s goal of $15,000, which will be enough to send 100 children to school for the entire 2021-22 academic year.
“I'm planning to go to Cameroon myself in August,” he says. “I want to do the school registration of the children and make sure that everything is okay. I’m also hoping to do a follow-up every three months to see how the kids are doing.”
Bayiga has been working closely with a local chief who is currently housing 120 children to keep them safe.
‘Concordia prepared me to do what I’m doing right now’
Raised by a single mother who sometimes struggled to put food on the table, Bayiga feels very fortunate to have had an extended family that was able and willing to support him in pursuing his bachelor’s degree at Concordia.
While a student in the Department of Political Science, Bayiga served as president of the African and Caribbean Students' Network of Canada (ACSioN-Concordia), vice-president of internal affairs of the African Students’ Association of Concordia and as a volunteer recruiter at Amnesty International.
“I got the volunteering gene at Concordia and this fundraising walk is a continuation of what I learned there,” he says.
“I was very shy before coming to Concordia. If you had talked to me 10 years ago, there was no way I could think of doing ‘lives’ on social media, posting videos of myself every single day, and even going on CityNews.
“At Concordia, I came out of my comfort zone. The university prepared me to do what I’m doing right now.”
Bayiga's GoFundMe campaign ends July 30, 2021. Learn more here.
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