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Schulich Law Alum Pays it Forward

Posted by Lola Augustine Brown on February 5, 2024 in News, Alumni & Friends
Marc Njoh (Provided Photo)
Marc Njoh (Provided Photo)

This story originally appeared in the 2023 edition of Hearsay, the Schulich School of Law Alumni Magazine.

When McFarlane “Marc” Chebesi Njoh (’16) saw an opportunity to leave his war-torn country of Cameroon and start a new life in Canada at the age of 22, he took it.

In 2006, he flew to Montreal with the name and address of a distant cousin he could stay with. He found himself stranded at the airport when he realized that the only money he had – West African francs – was not considered a valid currency and could not be converted into Canadian dollars.

“At the airport, two gentlemen from Mali helped me to get to my cousin’s address, and once I was there my cousin’s best friend reached out to her brother in Calgary. He and his friend decided to take me in,” explains Njoh. “So they paid for my flight to Calgary the following weekend and picked me up from the airport. We lived together for about a year.”

Njoh was studying law and politics before he left Cameroon, but once he arrived in Calgary he sought a well-paying career that would help him settle. He tried nursing for a semester, then worked in warehouses, before enrolling at the University of Calgary. In 2009, he met his wife, Shannan, who convinced him that they should move back to Nova Scotia where she was from.

Relocating to the East Coast

“I knew I wanted to go back into law and had been considering transferring to Dalhousie,” Njoh says. “Plus, we were expecting our first child and could do with some family support.”

The move proved to be a good one. Njoh says that he felt immediately welcomed at Dalhousie where he threw himself into student activism as a way of connecting with people. He became class president and held positions in various other student groups. In the second year of his undergrad, he became President of the African Students Association. He also tutored underprivileged children with the Black Educators Association of Nova Scotia.

At the Schulich School of Law, Njoh earned two Schulich Scholarships for community service and the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society (NSBS) President's Award for Leadership. During this time, he became Vice President of the Dalhousie Law Students’ Society and General Secretary of the Canadian Black Law Students’ Association.

Njoh also volunteered with Dalhousie Legal Aid Service's Out of the Cold project. “In the evening we’d go to Halifax shelters and advise people, many of whom were homeless, around issues of residential tenancy. We’d listen to and try and understand their experiences,” he explains, admitting that it blew his mind to see the problems people were having in this developed country. “Before I arrived in Canada, I assumed that society here was so perfect.”

After graduating, he began working with law firm Stewart McKelvey and then with the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service first in Kentville, then Yarmouth, and Port Hawkesbury before transferring to Sydney. 

Living in Cape Breton suits Njoh well. “We are surrounded by Shannan’s family, and my three kids are growing up with a lot of their cousins,” he says. 

Commitment to community

As for his professional life, Njoh says his goal was always to be a frontline lawyer. “I want to be where the action is, dealing with difficult situations and difficult people. I really do love helping people get through traumatic situations.”

In the meantime, Njoh has never paused his community work and as a result, was the recipient of the 2022 Public Prosecution Service of Canada’s Humanitarian Award. He sits on five boards in his community, and volunteers with numerous organizations. Njoh published a motivational book, titled Stronger: 8 Steps to Evict Stagnation, in 2020, and is working on a second title. He and his wife also operate a Segway tour business in Sydney. “I couldn’t do any of this without Shannan’s support. She's just as community minded as I am,” he says.

Njoh is also co-founder of the Peace Through Film Initiative which aims to promote peace in the Cameroons through film and dialogue. He mediates between groups in conflict and has travelled to Geneva and Cambodia to learn mediation work. When visiting home, Njoh and his Canadian family deliver medications to clinics and help however they can. “The Cameroons remains a very integral part of my being and is always at the forefront of my mind,” Njoh says. “My family is still there, and the conflict is ongoing.”

Njoh was nominated for the humanitarian award by his “very supportive” Chief Crown Prosecutor in Sydney, Kathryn Pentz. “I was so humbled,” Njoh says, “A lot of this type of work is thankless, so knowing she took the time to write me a recommendation for this award means a lot.”

This type of acknowledgement motivates Njoh to help more. “Without people helping me, I would not be where I am,” he shares. “I want to pay it forward, helping others whenever and wherever I can.”