Bongmba wants to work to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS in his home country. UN AIDS estimates 4.5 percent of Cameroon’s adult population between the ages 15 and 49 is infected. Putting his passion into action, Bongmba organized a small World AIDS Day event his first year at SPEA. The student Nonprofit Management Association sponsored the event, which drew about 25 attendees, he said.
As Bongmba expanded his network, he began planning a second World AIDS Day event, held in December 2016, with the help of four other graduate students: Mattie Theobald, Cameron Huston, Stephanie Gerbick and Pia Chaib.
Taking an issue straight from the headlines, Bongmba and the other student leaders chose to emphasize rural STD and AIDS prevention. In 2015, Scott County, Indiana, was the site of the worst HIV outbreak the state had experienced. Nearly 200 people were infected. After the CDC declared the outbreak an emergency, then-Indiana governor Mike Pence lifted a ban on needle exchange programs under certain conditions.
Bongmba drew on his personal connections and SPEA know-how to invite experts from Bloomington and across the nation to talk about how needle exchanges can help prevent the spread of disease.
HIV positive public speaker and health educator Kelly Gluckman’s talk resonated with attendees, Bongmba said. Gluckman currently serves as an ambassador with the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.
SPEA health economist Kosali Simon, Alumni Relations Executive Director Lori Garraghty and Executive Associate Dean Michael McGuire all gave Bongmba significant support.
Simon said Bongmba wants to be a different kind of physician, one who understands policy as well as medicine.
“There’s something special about him,” she said. “He has so much vision for the impact he wants to have. He’s so driven to make a difference.”
Bongmba said in addition to the tremendous encouragement he received in planning and executing his event from his SPEA network, his studies helped as well.
“The nonprofit management concentration helped me a lot,” he said, citing teambuilding and communication skills as having been especially useful.
Simon hopes others in the fledgling health policy concentration will be inspired by Bongmba to organize their own events. Skills such as coordination, project management, and effective communication are needed for success.
“[This event] gives students within our concentration experience in doing something like this,” Simon said. “They’re figuring it out for themselves and that is really valuable experience.”
Bongmba is already organizing his next event. He hopes to take a group of SPEA students to Washington, D.C., on March 27 and 28 for AIDS United’s annual AIDSWatch event, where advocates meet with members of Congress to educate them about HIV/AIDS issues.
He’s already demonstrated an ability to build partnerships. The HIV/AIDS event at IU brought together sponsors including SPEA, the School of Public Health, Kinsey Institute, GLBT Support Services, Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention, Nonprofit Management Association and Local Government Management Association.