Heroes without Headlines, Part 3

Written By Tony Mussari
Copyright 20112
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

Photography is a way of telling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… It remembers little things long after you have forgotten everything.  Aaron Siskind

Godlove’s Work

The Barnes & Noble bookstore in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, is one of a handful of college bookstores serving two small liberal arts colleges.  It is a place where shoppers of all ages can setup their laptops, purchase a cup of coffee, read a book or rent a college textbook in an inviting and welcoming environment.

This building was the place where F.M. Kirby maintained an office from which he directed a retail empire that stretched across the country and the Atlantic Ocean.  It is the same space where F.W. Woolworth had a Five and Dime Store that was once the largest retail chain in America. Unable to compete with the megastores and shopping malls built in the 1980’s, the Woolworth chain disintegrated and this historic building on South Main Street began to crumble and decay.

After ten years of dreaming and planning and a cooperative effort by civic, educational and political leaders, the Barnes & Noble Bookstore for King’s College and Wilkes University became a reality in 2008. To our delight, one of our former students, John Augustine, was one of the people who helped make the dream become a reality.

On this unseasonable warm January evening, the bookstore became a gallery for a display of photographs taken by students, teachers and administrators who participate in the Global Education program offered by Wilkes University. It was a joyful event, a thought-provoking event, a memorable event. The maestro conducting this magical orchestration of images and colors was Godlove Fonjweng.

Godlove is director of Global Education at Wilkes University. Born and raised in Cameroon, he received his undergraduate degree at Swarthmore and his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the perfect person for the job. Affable, creative, industrious, kind, knowledgeable, sociable, thoughtful and very competent, he loves what he does, and it shows. He loves his adopted country and it shows.

I met Godlove at the Marquis Art and Frame Shop in December and we became fast friends.

Captured Forever

On this evening more than 50 photographs were on display. An enthusiastic crowd of students, teachers, community leaders and invited guests came to celebrate the moment. Godlove was a gracious host who made everyone feel welcome, and he attended to every little detail to maximize the experience for everyone in the room.

The photographs were arranged in a way that enabled visitors to stop, look and think about what they were seeing. The images on display recorded scenes of students and teachers in faraway places seeing, talking, connecting and changing in ways they never expected. They gave witness to the many and rich benefits of international travel and study abroad.

Lisa Bova’s picture of three orphaned babies sitting is a discarded cardboard box touched my heart in a very special way. It captured the beauty of these children, their vulnerability, and their yearning to belong. As I focused my camera, their hopeful eyes drew me in, and for a moment, I forgot where I was and what I was doing. I wanted to reach out and give them comfort. I wanted them to have a home with people who would care for them and their needs. I was humbled by their innocence. I wondered why life is so unfair for some and so rich for others.

Virtually the same feelings overpowered me again when I came upon Karenbeth Bohen’s picture of an outdoor cooking area. The picture was taken in Northwest Tanzania in a rural village near a town called Karagwe.  

According to Karenbeth, an associate professor of Pharmacy Practice, the scene depicts a typical meal of boiled and then smashed green banana cooked over a wood fire. To get the water used in the process, it is not uncommon for people to walk 1-2 kilometers. Because water is so scarce in this part of the world, an accepted practice is to collect rain water as it drains off corrugated metal roofs.

This point was reinforced with a haunting image in a picture taken in Uganda.

Godlove snapped the shot of a child doing what children do in this village.

This is how Godlove described the shot:

“In Uganda, boys start running important family errands at a very early age.”

Pamela Pogash took her picture in a village in Kaya, Burkino Faso in 2011 during a medical mission trip.  This is what she wrote about the picture and the experience:

I learned first hand that the things we take for granted food, water, clothing and medical care should be cherished. Meeting the people, especially the children, and having the time to spend time with them showed me that a hug, a smile, or a wave serve as a universal language. These people have very little in the way of material things, but they have a lot of love and happiness in their hearts. I am now a better person for having this unforgettable experience.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share this photo. It means the world to me.

Telling, Touching, Loving

These are but four images from the photo exhibition. There were many others. Everyone told a story and everyone had a purpose. I enjoyed seeing the picture of Professor Karenbeth Bohan eating a recently picked juicy mango.  I admired the picture taken by Professsor Sharon Cosgrove of a 12th century Romanesque abbey located in the French village of St. Amand de Coly. The light streaming through the window into the fortified church created a magnificent scene.  

I wish I could describe every picture in detail here, but I can’t.

The best I can do is record what the photo exhibit did for Kitch and me. It provided an opportunity to see beyond the obvious. It took us to places that we seldom think about, and it helped us better understand the many blessings we have in America, and the responsibilities that come with those blessings. 

For me, Dr. Godlove Fonjweng, his colleagues and the students we met are heroes without headlines. They took the risk to get out of their comfort zone. They overcame their fears and all the uncertainties that discourage people from participating in experiences like this.  They brought good will, understanding and valuable services to people who need help. They recorded beautiful and powerful images that will break down walls of division and misunderstanding.  They gained invaluable insights that will broaden their perspective and humanize their work.

Ansel Adams once said, “A photograph is usually looked at – seldom looked into.”

Godlove Fonjweng takes students and teachers to places where they snap pictures that people want to look into. What he, his students and their teachers do is a classic example of America at its best.

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