Sunday, May 11, 2003

Actor helps to fit Cameroon with shoes


'It's a good feeling' to work with new group sending aid to Africa

By Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Jacques Etame (left) and Charles Vanoy, in Remede-Me's Over-the-Rhine warehouse, fill a bag with shoes going with clothes and school supplies to Cameroon.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
Things were going along nicely for Jacques Etame. Then Bruce Willis killed him.

"I was one of the rebels that organized after the Civil War. Bruce Willis and his men were sent in to squash us," says the actor, who moved to Hamilton seven months ago after finishing work in Willis' Tears of the Sun.

Etame, 28, has been in the United States 22 months. He and wife Mireille, a doctor, left their native Cameroon in west central Africa so Jacques could complete his education here. They moved first to Los Angeles., where Etame auditioned for, and got, the role in Tears. He has no dialogue but, as one of the rebel leaders, a goodly amount of screen time on the film shot in Hawaii.

After 15 months in Los Angeles, they moved to Hamilton. Today, Etame is studying finance at Cincinnati State and working in home health care, specializing in the disabled.

That part all makes sense. But living in Cincinnati? For an actor who wants to make big budget Hollywood action films?

Remede-Me, that's what it's about. Remede-Me collects materials of all sorts - shoes, clothing, school supplies, money - to send to Cameroon. It was incorporated in March and is in the process of getting its 501(c) (non-profit status) from the IRS.

"I have friends here from Cameroon. I heard about the group from them and moved here," Etame says, almost in a whisper. "To give back to your country, it's a good feeling to do that."

He's also a really great forklift operator, says Charles Vanoy, a 43-year-old computer specialist from Batavia. He's the group's CEO, one of its founders and he, too, speaks almost in a whisper. And with an accent, but it's Southern. "I was born in Cucumber, W.Va. Really. After we moved away and I had to fill out forms in school, I always had to carry a note from home saying that I'm not making it up."

GET IN TOUCH
Contact Remede-Me by e-mail at remedeme@hotmail.com or by calling 947-0376. The group is in the process of building a Web site, but doesn't expect it to be up for at least three weeks.
He's not making this up, either: "There is such a tremendous need in Cameroon. The children have none of the things that we take for granted, and that puts a tremendous burden on parents. And when I say nothing, I really mean nothing. They rely on us for so much, because the need is so great. And now, with the AIDS epidemic, it's even worse because of the fear."

Remede-me takes all that to heart and now wants to help. The group recently sent its first shipment - two 40-foot containers packed with 1,000 bags of shoes.

"I have no idea how many pairs it was," Vanoy says. "We have warehouse space in Over-the-Rhine where we keep things until we can ship. With that first shipment, we just kept packing until everything was full. It was a real struggle to get it done because there are so few of us."

Uh, here's a question: Where does one find enough shoes to fill 1,000 Hefty bags? "A bunch of us put our money together. We bought from Goodwill, St. Vincent De Paul, we collected at churches, anything we could do," Vanoy says.

But getting stuff is one thing, finding the money to ship it is another. It costs $5,000 per container, plus a $10,000 customs fee in Cameroon, though the customs fee will be waived when the group receives its official 501(c) status.

"I've been assured by the IRS that we have it, and that we can go ahead and tell people," Vanoy said. "But I like to have confirmation in writing before I say too much."

Once he's comfortable talking about the 501 status, Vanoy has a plan: "We're going to start actively soliciting. We have an interdenominational consortium of churches lined up ... we have a plan where we'll go to foundations and corporations, places like Kroger and Wal-Mart, and actively solicit there. Somewhere down the road, we'll start applying for grants."

"We have been working hard at this, because we feel once we get the materials, it's our responsibility to process them, to get them to the people who need them," Etame says. "For that reason, I'll go back and ask Bruce Willis if he or any of his corporations can help us. I'm hoping he will say yes."

Regardless of what Willis and the other corporations pledge, it's not going to change Etame's view of America: "I find it inspiring here. I have been in other countries, like France, and it's so different here. There's such a huge opportunity for foreign people to do what they want. To go to school, to work, to educate yourself. It seems so easy to do what you want to do."

So he'll stay in America to live, work and make babies, right?

Wrong.

"I have family in Cameroon. My mom, my dad, two brothers, uncles, many cousins. I keep in contact by cell phone.

"We will go back and my wife will practice medicine because there is a great need, and I'll work for Remede-Me on the distribution end.

"We want to expand into medical materials," Vanoy says. "Etame's wife tells us over and over how terrible the equipment is. And the need for emergency vehicles is critical. So is the need for school buses. As Remede grows, we'll try to expand into those areas."

There are many needs to fill, Etame says. "But we understand that things have to come little by little. We will make a difference."

E-mail jknippenberg@enquirer.com




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