He aims for lasting impact
Most college graduates want a decent-paying job and to move on with their lives.
Not Brad Wagenaar. Not yet. He's moving on, but not for himself.
The rural River Falls resident graduated from St. Olaf College in Minnesota with a clinical psychology degree.
Through the nonprofit group Bike and Build, he cycled 3,527 miles one summer through Florida, Louisiana, Texas and California, stopping to put up Habitat for Humanity affordable houses and raising money for the homeless.
After that he signed up for a two-year stint in the Peace Corps and got sent to Cameroon, a west-central African country that borders Nigeria.
His assignment: Public health improvements in the hinterlands among 20 villages with a collective population of 90,000 served by a two-bed hospital.
"It's amazing, really, how much responsibility they assign to these young volunteers," says Steve Mayberry, Brad's dad, whose town of Clifton home borders Kinnickinnic State Park.
Brad has worked with Cameroon villagers on AIDS prevention education, early childhood development, proper hygiene, and urged couples to feed their kids a high-protein meal called "soybean mash," which is grown locally.
There are language, religion and cultural barriers to overcome, says his father, Steve. The women tend to be segregated and less inclined to speak with men.
Brad's first public health project was raising money and finding a German charity to dig a new well for cleaner drinking water.
His next project is to build a furnished, modern, primary school for some 500 kids ages 6-15 in the village of Ketcheble.
Locals have raised part of the money for the $21,000 school, but Brad is also seeking outside funds.
"He needs about another $5,800 by the end of February," says Steve. "This will be a school using local labor that's made of concrete blocks and a metal roof, with desks and chairs, that should last for 50 years."
Two mud huts with rock walls and dirt floors now serve as schools. Each is smaller than most American living rooms.
One has a stick roof that gives shade but no protection from rain. Inside there's only a blackboard and plastic chair for the teacher. The other school hut has rocks and planks for sitting.
School attendance is low and the villages find it hard to attract teachers with such primitive facilities.
Steve says that he, his wife and Brad were inspired by book "Three Cups of Tea," written by humanitarian Greg Mortenson.
Mortenson started Central Asia Institute which cooperates with rural natives in Pakistan and Afghanistan to build schools. His mother, Jerene Mortenson, was principal at Westside Elementary in the 1990s.
It was Westside students in River Falls and their "Pennies for Pakistan" fundraiser that launched Mortenson school-building efforts that are now globally acclaimed and supported.
"What Greg Mortenson is doing gave Brad the idea to build a school," Steve said. "Education is important because of its lasting value, and Brad is into sustainable projects, those that live on forever."
The best way to support Brad Wagenaar's school building project in Cameroon is to get out your credit card and visit this website: https://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=resources.donors.contribute.p.... There's a link to donate.
If people would rather mail a check, Steve said to use his town of Clifton address: Steve and Diane Mayberry/W12617 770th Ave./River Falls, WI 54022.