LIVERPOOL, United Kingdom — Former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou arose out of the sand pits of Batié, Cameroon, where he worked as a 10-year-old boy. Now the fighter, who earlier this year enrolled with friend Kamaru Usman at Harvard Business School, has established the Francis Ngannou Foundation, which offers new educational hopes to the next generation of Cameroonians.
Education in Cameroon
Before fleeing to Europe at the age of 26 with hopes of becoming a fighting champion, Ngannou was forced to work as a child in order to afford the required educational materials. Cameroon’s national education system only became free in 2000, and since then has made education compulsory through to age 14 — after six years of schooling is complete. Rates of educational poverty persist, as parents are still required to pay for uniforms and other materials for their child’s study, meaning that education for many families remains as unaffordable today as it was in Ngannou’s childhood.
Poverty in Cameroon
Education for all remains unachieved in Cameroon, which produces a national literacy rate of 69% — a gendered figure that sees female primary school enrollment figures trumped by male enrollment. Considering that 37.5% of Cameroonians live below the poverty line (a figure that can rise to 70% in some areas), it is no wonder that the costs of education materials result in educational poverty at the hands of an inconsistent education system.
A total of 3.9 million Cameroonians are in need of humanitarian assistance, and on average the majority of the nation lives on $1,500 a year, 10% of the figure that determines a single person living in poverty in the U.S. In Ngannou’s hometown of Batié, a region dependent on agricultural self-employment in the sand quarries, with a population of 11,000, such experiences of poverty are endured to an even greater extent.
Post-COVID-19 conditions have failed to improve the state of poverty and education in Cameroon. A total 1.4 million children are attending poorly maintained, overcrowded schools that come under consistent armed attacks — a figure that correlates to the 667,000 pupils in need of humanitarian assistance, and the number of internally displaced pupils increasing since 2021 due to conflicts in Cameroon. This educational poverty comes as a result of poorly maintained schooling infrastructure, a shortage of teachers and poor connection links between schools and villages.
Not only are the children of Cameroon disenfranchised from attaining the essential foundations that education provides, but they are not shown any hope of succeeding in an adult profession. Consequently, child labor is on the rise in the region; so much so that the issue was placed high on the agenda for the fifth Global Conference for the Elimination of Child Labor in 2022, and is now on the 2023 International Labor Organization’s action plan.
Francis Ngannou Foundation
Ngannou is doing his bit too. While becoming UFC heavyweight champion and, most recently, challenging heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury in a highly anticipated martial arts crossover, the Cameroonian has never forgotten his roots. Accordingly, he has established the Francis Ngannou Foundation to give back to his hometown of Batié and the nation at large. The fighter’s vision is to aid the most vulnerable of children in his hometown and home nation by offering a sustainable environment, with an emphasis placed on improving education and health facilities. Having experienced the educational poverty that many other children in Cameroon continue to suffer from, Ngannou hopes to change the trajectory of education in the African nation.
Francis in Action
Since its conception, the Francis Ngannou Foundation has succeeded in improving the conditions of education in Cameroon on three counts:
- Providing computer labs to villages across Cameroon that can be used by several schools.
- Providing school materials to thousands of children across Cameroon, assuring they have the most equipped start to education.
- Improving the infrastructure of many public and non-public schools in the nation.
Amid Ngannou’s direct attempts at reducing educational poverty in his home nation, his introduction of the first MMA gyms in Cameroon work similarly to instill an ethos of progression, discipline and commitment that goes together with a new, encouraging approach to education in the country.
Together With Francis
During Ngannou’s efforts to reduce educational poverty in Cameroon, there have been moments of great encouragement. The heartwarming story of Sam Crook, head instructor of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at the first-ever MMA gym in Cameroon, unveiled by Ngannou, shows the efficacy of the nourishing classroom-like space of Ngannou’s gym. On the funding front too, a grant of $25 million will allow for the construction and amendments of classrooms in schools across Cameroon. Both of these are encouraging acts for Ngannou, the fighter who battles as hard in the ring as he does in reducing educational poverty in his home nation.
– Joseph Wray