When Central Washington University biology professor Blaise Dondji heard that a woman in labor in his home village had to travel on a motorcycle on an egregious road to the nearest OBGYN miles away because they couldn’t perform the C-section in the village, he put another goal on his mind:

And that was to purchase an ambulance vehicle so that never again would a pregnant woman would have to travel in those conditions — or any person for that matter. Needing $60,000 for the ambulance, with the help of a friend and his wife who donated half the costs, Dondji said they are closing in on the other half and hopes to reach it by the end of the year

“It wasn’t safe. But God made it — it was a miracle,” Dondji said. “God help us and she got there. …But I thought, ‘This shouldn’t happen. No, this is not fair.’”

Dondji has always made it his mission to improve the lives of those living in Bawa, Cameroon in Central Africa, a population of around 400 people. In 2005, he co-founded the Bawa Health Initiative, a nonprofit, with the assist of Dr. Dennis Richardson. They have worked to provide a safer, healthier environment.

According to Dondji, there was no health clinic growing up, with the nearest one being 13 miles away. To make matters even tougher, there wasn’t transportation to get there, so people in the village would have to walk.

So Dondji and the Bawa Health Initiative strove to build a health clinic, which came to fruition in December of 2017. Fifteen physicians and nurses from Ellensburg, Lacey, and Connecticut came with Dondji to Bawa and they stayed for three weeks. In that time frame, they saw more than 1,000 patients.

“The reason why I came up with the idea of the clinic was because of my mom who passed away while giving birth,” Dondji told the Daily Record in 2018. “She didn’t get any care because the nearest doctor was too far away.”

FUNDRAISING SPORT CAMPS

When Dondji’s family first moved to Ellensburg in 2008 from Connecticut, he and his wife Francine hosted fundraiser dinners that served Cameroon food and they would get at least 120 people.

But in 2012, Dondji had another idea: a youth soccer camp that’s flourished since its startup and is scheduled this July 15-18. Jim Engeland and Dr. Robert Pritchett help run the camp with Dondji.

Then recently in 2017, Dondji founded a basketball camp. He doesn’t have much experience with the sport, but he had talks with Austin Smith of Ellensburg Elite Academy about the idea of it and Smith agreed to lead the camp.

“He runs it, and I organize it,” Dondji said.

Before the basketball camp commenced, Dondji explained to the kids how the nonprofit organization has evolved and the importance of these types of events.

While the kids might not realize the impact they are making now by just participating, Dondji hopes they will down the road.

“I really love doing this with the kids because you never know at this age what can help them think differently when they’re older,” he said.

Dondji said they have been pondering the idea of combing the soccer camp with other sports, such as football and rugby. But as of now, it’s just basketball and soccer.

COMING TO THE STATES

Dondji earned his Bachelor of Science, Masters of Science and Masters of Philosophy at the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon. He then earned his Ph.D. at the University of Jos in Nigeria.

He moved to the United States in 2002 with his family to Connecticut to work at Yale School of Medicine. He stayed there for six years but sought out a different opportunity. He wasn’t interested in looking for work on the West Coast, but when he saw the CWU job description, the juxtaposition between his curriculum vitae (CV) and the requirements for the position was nearly identical.

“It was like somebody saw my CV before he or she wrote that job description,” Dondji said.

And Dondji’s been here since. He’s had nothing but praise for the Ellensburg community — and what they’ve done to help support his home village.

“They care about the other person. They don’t just care about themselves, but the other person. They care,” Dondji said. “Because small community, we are very tight.”

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