Robinson Orume is the only fellow I know who can distinguish among species of pangolins or tell you how to use chili peppers to deter elephants.
Robinson grew up in a village in the rainforest region of Cameroon. He worked as a national park ranger and saw first-hand the poaching and agricultural expansion that threatened the richly diverse tropical ecosystem. He soon founded the Korup Rainforest Conservation Society to support educational opportunities through scholarships, and training in environmentally-friendly business ideas like seed-collection and bee-keeping.
He and his wife, Pamela, decided Cameroon was no place to raise their three children, Edison, Bryan and Ronella.
When Robinson was invited to present a paper at a conference on community-based conservation in Halifax just over two years ago, he took the opportunity to apply for asylum. He was granted refugee status and settled in Ottawa, finding jobs where could, at Value Village and then as a security guard. In his spare time, he volunteered with Nature Canada and CUSO.
His goal was to find work in his own field and he applied for positions in Nunavut and Banff but soon realized that he needed Canadian credentials. This, despite the wealth of Cameroonian experience and his two degrees (which included an M. Sc. in Protected Area Management earned on scholarship at Australia’s James Cook University).
Which is what brought him to the Kawarthas.
After some online investigation he settled on the Ecosystem Management Technology (EMT) program at Fleming’s Frost campus here in Lindsay.
“EMT was the perfect fit for me,” he says. “I like small communities and when I talked to instructors, they explained how the program would give me more options.”
He was admitted into the third year of EMT based on his past credentials, and one of the instructors (Barbara Hendenreich) offered him the guest house on her 200-acre property in Bailieboro.
“The generous warmth and will to help me in any way they can from all the faculty at Fleming has been mind-blowing,” he says.
Robinson’s been immersing himself in courses that range from Habitat Assessment to Environmental Economics, and completing a team project for the Ontario Land Trust Alliance. He’s enjoying his studies —and the Kawarthas. He may have grown up in a tropical rainforest, but he isn’t the least bit intimidated by Canadian winters (an introduction to snowshoeing in Ottawa made him a fan).
It had been more than two years since Robinson had last seen his wife and children until a recent visit on the African continent was finally allowed. Above all, he’s looking forward to completing the citizenship process and bringing his family here.
Once he’s completed his Advanced Diploma in Ecosystem Management Technology, he hopes to contribute to conservation efforts in his adopted homeland. Fleming instructor Barb Elliot thinks he should be optimistic.
“I see him going places here in Canada,” she says. “There are many non-government organizations that would value his talents.”