The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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August 10, 2001 Issue
Special Section:
College/Back to School

Xavier High School welcomes teacher from Africa

Couple works to bring their children to U.S.

By Linda DeVries
Compass Correspondent

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 Cameroon.

"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 lottery."

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 homes.

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 fund-raising efforts.

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 together."

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 our staff."

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.

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