Joseph Zingui

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow since 1995
Foundation Petit Dan et Sarah
This description of Joseph Zingui's work was prepared when Joseph Zingui was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1995 .


Joseph Zingui is building an alternative family and community based movement to love and care for Cameroon's orphaned, disadvantaged and poor children.

The New Idea

Joseph Zingui believes that every child is entitled to and must receive "family love." He extends his concept of family to include not only the traditional idea of nuclear and extended members but also to the greater community as a significant part of the child's family life system. In other words, the entire community should and can ensure that each and every child is provided with basic physical and emotional care.
Joseph and his wife, Marie Magdoline, have purposefully created a model program that places family love as the central element in a comprehensive set of services for disadvantaged children. These services include an interim residential program in a homelike setting at their center; counseling and training in income generation for families at risk of falling apart; a foster family program; a nursery school; vocational skills training and work internships; and micro-credit provision.
Joseph knows that for social services for disadvantaged children to reflect family love as a primary service goal there will have to be a very high degree of volunteer community involvement. Accordingly, Joseph built his model center deliberately over a ten-year period with an almost total reliance on local community support. "We should not ask foreigners to support our children," he says, "and we cannot blame them if their support comes with conditions." His local fundraising success is rooted in an appeal to people's sense of responsibility for their community life and is sustained by the quality of experience that his program provides for the many volunteers and contributors.Having refined and proven his approach, Joseph is now ready to spread it throughout Cameroon and beyond.

The Problem

The economic decline in Cameroon has contributed to an increase in the number of children and families facing difficult circumstances. Rural/urban migration and other social phenomena have resulted in large numbers of street children. Poverty has affected the ability of families to meet the material needs of their children. Children who are the victims of these situations are known as disadvantaged children.
The traditional services for such children in Cameroon are generally provided by religious, volunteer or philanthropic organizations. Most of their facilities have one or two primary sponsors, such as the Catholic Church, international donor agencies, international or local associations. Most programs have an institutional feel and don't engage with the communities in which they are located. Not surprisingly, only a very small percentage of their annual budgets are provided for by those communities. Their programs tend to have a single or at most a dual focus. The Catholic Church facilities, for example, typically provide education and residential care.

The Strategy

Joseph's work begins with the theory that just because a family is not able to meet the needs of educating and caring for its children, that doesn't mean there is no love. The importance of family love was not previously incorporated in the services provided for disadvantaged children. Recognizing this deficiency, Joseph's method starts by considering how to support families at risk in providing loving care for their children and goes on to incorporate loving care into all services for children.With creation of and support for sustainable family life systems as its central ideal and goal, Joseph set up a foundation to operate several strategies for strengthening, recreating or creating a family life system for each child in the care of the foundation. The residential facilities, primarily for true orphans or homeless children, are modeled after cottage style residences with house parents who are preferably couples with or without children and live permanently in the cottage. Volunteer French couples sponsored by a French donor agency serve for two years, usually acting as house parents and also serving in other capacities such as teachers and helping in fundraising. In addition, foster homes take some of the children on long-term commitment with the foundation providing counseling and social service support. The foundation also has support projects for families in difficult circumstances that provide counseling and social support as well as training to enhance employment opportunities. Families that have fallen apart and left displaced children are strengthened by this method.The foundation runs a nursery school for children under five that caters to the local community. The local children pay a small fee; older children go to primary and secondary schools in the community. By secondary school each child begins to learn a trade in preparation for being self-supporting. The foundation provides instruction in carpentry, sewing, mechanics, hair styling and catering, through community based apprenticeships and by in-house teachers from the various fields. The in-house training is also open to community members who pay fees. By the time they are in late adolescence, young adults are helped by the foundation to find placements in the job market. Joseph has developed intense fundraising campaigns, causing him to travel all over the country and to make local appearances on radio and television to keep the public informed and aware of its responsibilities and its need to contribute. This work has laid the basis for the replication of service centers like the model one that Joseph has set up in Yaounde.
The micro-integration program is borne out of Joseph's concern for the young people who pass through the center and graduate back into the community. In an effort to create and maintain a sustainable support network he now encourages them to organize into small income-generating, life-planning groups. Each group is counseled and provided with management training. Efforts are made to link them with community resources to get a project started that will support them and allow them to continue to interact supportively with one another, maintaining a sense of belonging and encouraging mutual support for one another.
Although the foundation now serves children drawn from all over the country, in every region there are enough children to justify a facility such as the original center in Yaounde. Joseph's current goal is to replicate facilities throughout the country and beyond into Nigeria and Ghana.

The Person

Although not orphaned in the traditional sense, Joseph came from a large and poor family. He was educated by a benevolent stranger from another part of the country. That someone could care for him without being a family member or even from the same ethnic group left an indelible impression. "I resolved to develop my own goodwill and promised God that I would always share whatever I had with needy children."
Joseph did his educational benefactor proud, completing a university education, and began a rather prosperous career as an accountant in commerce and banking. Together with his wife, Marie, who is an orphan, they found mutual encouragement for their interest in needy children. Their journey to what is now a model for an alternative national children services program began when they adopted two orphans. Others followed and they began to care for a growing network of children indirectly by providing emotional support to families at risk. Three years later on they set up the foundation and two years after that Joseph gave up his accounting practice to devote himself full-time to the work. They named their organization the Dan and Sarah Foundation after a book about two orphaned children named Dan and Sarah who traveled all over the world helping other children in trouble. They felt this lovely story mirrored their own relationship.