College/Back to School
Xavier High School welcomes teacher from Africa
Couple works to bring their children to U.S.
By Linda DeVries
Thirteen-year-old Linda Vakunta is enrolled at Xavier High School
in Appleton for this coming school year. But while her fellow
students are busy buying notebooks and backpacks, she is waiting
halfway across the world for two crucial things: a visa and
$8,000. Once these arrive, she and her three younger siblings
will join their parents here in the United States.
Linda's parents, Peter and Anasthasia Vakunta, arrived last March
from Cameroon in western Africa. This fall Peter will teach
creative writing and all five levels of French at the same
Catholic high school his daughter will attend.
"I may have a smile on my face because I'm an optimistic person,"
Peter said, "but I'm sick inside. I won't be smiling on the
inside until our children are here with us."
Peter Vakunta took some big risks in deciding to come to the
United States. He put a promising career on hold and had to leave
his children behind temporarily. Yet his children's future was
the primary reason Vakunta, 39, entered his name in the United
States' green-card lottery system. This annual drawing allows a
limited number of skilled people, who are willing to leave their
countries of origin to become permanent residents of the U.S. He
placed his name in the drawing at the American embassy in
"At that time I was lecturing at a university in Pretoria, South
Africa," Vakunta said, "while my wife and children were back in
Cameroon. I was concerned about my children's education, their
moral upbringing, and the AIDS epidemic. Also, it was no good
that we could not be together. So we decided to enter the
When the Vakuntas won the lottery, they had only enough money for the
parents to travel to the U.S. With faith in God that their
children would soon join them, Peter and Anasthasia arrived in
March, leaving their children-Linda, 13; Delphine, 10; Winston,
8; and Arrested, 6-in the care of Anasthasia's sister in Cameroon
until they could afford to send for them. The children's plane
tickets have already been booked for Sept. 2, but they have only
half of the needed $8,000.
"We're also waiting for their visas," Anasthasia said, "so we're
still going on faith."
Christian faith is a profound influence in Vakuntas' lives. "I'm
a product of the Sacred Heart fathers and their education
system," Peter said. "Because of my Catholic upbringing, I found
that I often disagreed with the Cameroon government. It's so
corrupt. It was the wrong place for me to be."
Education has also played an important role. Peter has studied in
Cameroon, Great Britain, France, and South Africa, and he holds
master's degrees in both comparative linguistics and education
with an emphasis in environmental studies. He has published poems
and short stories in England and South Africa and has written for
newspapers in Cameroon. He is fluent in English and French, as
well as his native language, Bamunka. Anasthasia is currently
training to work in the field of nursing, especially in nursing
Since their arrival in Appleton, both Peter and Anasthasia have
worked at Anchor Foods, putting aside as much money as possible
to bring their children here. Their new faith communities-St.
Bernadette Parish, Appleton, and the People of Praise, a
charismatic organization that is ecumenical, but in the Fox
Valley is primarily Catholic-soon got involved with their
Tim Loritz, a member of People of Praise, saw the need and set up
a trust fund at Community First Credit Unions. Another member of
the group, David Lee, who works as a financial consultant, has
also been helping with the financial end of the process.
Pat Verbich, who belongs to both St. Bernadette Parish and People
of Praise, heads up publicity. She said, "Peter and Anasthasia
are so eager and able to relate to us. It's been wonderful
getting to know them!"
When the children arrive, they will be enrolled in all three
levels of the Appleton Catholic Education System (ACES). Linda
will attend Xavier High School, Delphine will go to St Joseph
Middle School, and the two boys will be at St. Bernadette.
Peter said, "I'm glad my children can attend schools where
morality and religion have a place in education."
"Our kids really want to come here," Anasthasia said. "They miss
us a lot."
Although Peter and Anashasia arrived in Appleton with only their
luggage (they regret having to leave all their photograph albums
behind), people at both St. Bernadette and People of Praise have
come to their assistance with furniture and other necessities.
Their pastor, Fr. Harold Berryman, said, "Vakuntas come to church
every Sunday, and the feeling is good among the people. They are
fine people and very outgoing. We've taken up a couple
collections to help bring their children here; families should be
Peter said, "We came with nothing, but these wonderful people [at
St. Bernadette and People of Praise] helped us out with furniture
and so many other things! We're very grateful."
Although Peter has taught preschool through college levels, as
well as trained teachers, he looks forward to teaching high
school at Xavier. His contract is part-time (60 percent), so he
said, "I would entertain work in French/English interpretation
and translation for companies, because I have the expertise and
time to do that. Or perhaps I will find another teaching position
for the remaining 40 percent."
Matt Reynebeau, principal at Xavier High School, said, "[Peter]
is very well educated; we're lucky to find someone with his
expertise. He will teach French I-V, plus a creative writing
course, and we may add some more English classes to his schedule
later on. We're very happy to have him; he's a great addition to
Peter Vakunta already knew Michael Fonkem, the former French
teacher at Xavier. Fonkem, also from Cameroon and now teaching at
the University of Wisconsin - Fox Valley, was Vakuntas' reason
for choosing to live in Appleton.
"He told us that Appleton was a relatively calm town, good for
children," Peter said. "He proposed that we come here. We've
found the people very friendly."
As for the future, Peter plans to eventually pursue a doctorate
in environmental studies. "My calling may be in the United
Nations system, even if that means we may have to move to New
York someday. But for now, I'm most comfortable with teaching.
And as a teacher, I'm constantly a student, always learning."
In the meantime, Peter and Anasthasia's main desire is to make a
home in Appleton for their children.
Do they have any regrets over their decision to leave everything
behind and come to the United States?
"No," Anasthasia states firmly. "We miss our families, but we
don't regret our decision. Our children are our first priority.
Here there are so many opportunities, especially the opportunity
to have a good education."
If you would like to contribute to the Vakuntas' children's fund,
you may send your donations to Community First Credit Union, 509
N. Richmond, Appleton, WI 54911, or take them to any of Community
First's branches in the area. The trust fund account is #192729.