From East Texas to Central Africa, Michelle Steffee Bellomy ’95 has traveled four continents teaching elementary students. The Tyler, Texas native was a recipient of a Lechner Scholarship while a student at Texas A&M University, graduating magna cum laude with a degree in interdisciplinary studies. Michelle currently lives in Cameroon, Africa with her husband, Charles, and their daughter, Eliza.
Since Michelle graduated, the Bellomy family has taught in East Texas, Hungary and China before finally settling in Yaounde, Cameroon in 2014.
“About a month after we arrived in Cameroon, a friend took us to visit a local Yaounde orphanage,” says Michelle. “We fell in love with the kids and the sisters who take care of them, and we saw tremendous need.” The story for most of the orphaned children is similar; their parents have either died or they are not mentally able to care for their children.
What the Bellomys saw when they first visited the orphanage was heartbreaking. “We saw some of the girls squatting by an open flame, stoking the fire with paper and scraps just so they could cook,” says Charles. “We learned that they didn’t have access to adequate food, a reliable water source and that 29 children were sharing 13 old twin mattresses - sometimes sleeping three children to a mattress.”
With a desire to meet more of the children’s needs than their family could fund, Eliza mentioned trying to find a place online where they could raise funds. Within hours of their first visit, Charles initiated a GoFundMe campaign.
"We have been able to do things for these kids that no one thought was possible." - Michelle Belomy '95Tweet This
They made a plan and set an ambitious goal of $10,000.
Within four days, the fundraising goal had been exceeded. “We have been blessed with an amazing network of family and friends,” Charles says. “We have been able to do things for these kids that no one thought was possible.”
The funds were used to purchase mattresses for the children to sleep on, a reserve water tank to ensure access to clean water during outages, a cooking stove, vitamins and two meals a week that include protein. Additional contributions are helping the Bellomys do even more.
“For me, helping to meet the children’s basic needs has been meaningful,” says Michelle. “But also providing some things that we take for granted. Like giving the kids soccer balls or having them decorate Christmas cookies has been a powerful reminder that creating memories adds so much joy to living.”
The orphanage has an in-house school and a local church provides teachers. The Bellomys have used some of the funds they raised to provide school supplies. While Eliza hopes that all of the children can eventually graduate from college, find a good paying job and get married, it won’t be the reality for most of them.
“The third-world truth is that the probability is low for these children to be able to receive more than the Cameroonian equivalent to a high-school education,” says Charles. “What we hope to do here is elevate the quality of their day-to-day life, support the education that is provided for them and facilitate moments of joy.”
To support Aggies like Michelle who are destined to make a difference, contact Jody Ford at email@example.com to make a donation.