Two catastrophic struggles that Nigeria has faced the last 30 years couldn’t be more different.
There is a common consequence though from both the AIDS virus that peaked in the 1980s and today’s civil war between Christians and Muslims.
Hundreds of thousands of children in the African nation then and now are without parents.
Five years ago an 18-year-old man living in the tiny town of Montverde, Fla., was determined to assist those orphans.
It started small with friends buying everyday items Americans take for granted and shipping them to Nigeria. Even transitioning to college didn’t interrupt the young man’s persistence to help.
At Charleston Southern, his efforts grew exponentially. He established a non-profit organization. Its mission was to “promote peace and to inspire breakthroughs in the way the world treats and cares for orphans and to help protect their human rights.”
Paul Gombwer isn’t just some Florida kid with a big heart and a desire to help a county 6,000 miles away. Paul Gombwer is from Kaduna, Nigeria.
“Then it was AIDS; now it’s war,” Gombwer said.
Nigeria still has the second-largest number of people living with HIV. It also ranks as the No. 10 country where Christians face the most persecution.
Fortunately Gombwer didn’t have a loved one die in the civil unrest that has ripped apart his homeland. Gombwer saw AIDS, death, destruction and mayhem though the first 17 years of his life.
Montverde Academy is 6,000 miles away from Nigeria, but sitting in the plush accommodations of a sponsor’s home, getting an American education and playing basketball didn’t change where Gombwer came from. He knew he could make an impact back home even though he was so far away.
“I joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes when I was at Montverde,” said Gombwer, the youngest of six children and the only one to get a collegiate education. “I became our team’s FCA president. It just felt right. Back then there was this feeling of wanting to help those that couldn’t help themselves.”
That passion only intensified when he arrived at Charleston Southern on scholarship. It came with a price though. Two years ago, Gombwer’s mother Alice died of a stroke and the loss was felt beyond her family.
“Just around the time of her death, I got a phone call from a guy who I almost didn’t even remember,” said Gombwer. “He was crying even before I said hello. He said, ‘I remember your mom. When I would come over and play she would always cook for me and make sure I felt at home.’”
The Alice Gombwer Foundation’s mission is to improve the lives of orphans and at-risk children in Nigeria and around the world through the unifying power of sports, education, and evangelism.
The 6-foot-6 senior forward, who averaged almost 4 points and 7 rebounds in 20 minutes a game for the Buccaneers and made the conference’s all-academic team the last three years, plans to put all of his energy into his mom’s foundation when he graduates in May.