You might think that being diagnosed with polio at six months of age would make it tough for a person to achieve a lofty goal, not to mention several.
But if you thought that about Philibert Kongtcheu of Secaucus, you would be wrong.
Utilizing philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s saying, “What does not kill me makes me stronger” as his mantra, Kongtcheu has managed to use his situation to strive for success.
If there really is a “21st Century Man,” it might very well be Kongtcheu.
He speaks eight languages; five of them fluently.
He was raised and educated in Paris, France, and received his Aggregation in Mathematics (equivalent to a Ph.D.).
He moved to the United States in 1996 to work as a quantitative mathematician for a bank here.
“This is my way of surviving.” – Philibert Kongtcheu
He is the owner of PFK Technologies, a financial risk management company.
And he is well versed in the creative arts, especially poetry, where he has found his niche.
Kongtcheu participated in The Resident Art Show and Poetry Lounge held in April at the Town Hall. He has published a volume of poems, and has even written one specifically about his adopted hometown.
The Cameroon native lives at the Hudson Manor Health Care Center on County Avenue, and spends much of his day working, learning, problem solving, and creating new ideas, some of which he has patented.
Child of polio and linguist
“I am a child of polio, and polio defined who I am in terms of character, life experiences, and sensitivities,” he said. But he does not let that label define him or stop him from moving forward.
It certainly did not stop him in his linguistic studies. Kongtcheu is fluent in English, French, Mandarin Chinese, Ghomala, and Pidgin. He also speaks Spanish, German, and Italian.
“When I came here two years ago, I was seriously weakened from the waist down, with nowhere else to go,” he said. “I was in a state of despair and was totally overwhelmed.”
But he did not let himself become depressed or allow himself to ease into a state of nonexistence.
He has used his poetry as a means to self heal.
“Poetry has become the area in which I project and soothe my emotional travails,” he said. “I guess I have always had a poetic disposition.”
His participation in the town art show re-energized his interest in poetry, giving him a reason to write more and to organize ones he had already written.
He has applauded Mayor Michael Gonnelli and Lee Penna, community outreach coordinator, for fueling that endeavor.
“Thanks to the mayor’s support, together with Lee at the library during the art show in April, I organized a few of my poems that were subsequently published in a small book,” he said. “I am about to release a second edition of that book.”
He said he has also received support from the Secaucus WalMart and The United Way for the work he showcased at those venues.
He said a comment from a reader of his poetry especially struck home.
“It was Franklin Roosevelt Johnson, 79 years old, who tells me that it only ranks next to the Bible in terms of impact on him,” Kongtcheu said.
Kongtcheu is also busy writing a book and will be taking courses through the Harvard University Extension’s Master in Creative Writing Program in September.
“I want to leverage that experience to produce a piece that showcases the highest levels of literary expression,” he said.
Clothes drive He has also started a program at his nursing center called “Dress 4 Wellness,” which will be distributing clothing to fellow residents who have little family support.
“Being well dressed to me means -- especially in these circumstances -- that you are still very much cared for, by you or those who are responsible for you,” he said.
Kongtcheu lauded the mayor for being supportive of the program with a “significant” amount of new clothes already delivered to the program.
He welcomes more donations, and asked that those wishing to donate to those at Hudson Manor do so by dropping the items off at the United Way at 79 Metro Way, where he volunteers once a week, with his name on it.
Secaucus as home
He has found joy in his move to Secaucus, feeling the town’s hospitality toward him.
“From the kindness of little children on the street when I was in a wheelchair, to the mayor, who has really sought to make things easier for me in any possible way for him,” he said. “I am really grateful. My poem to the town is just an encapsulation of that feeling of gratitude.”
“This is my way of surviving,” Kongtcheu said. “While keeping a positive outlook on life, I have a constantly refreshed sense of the possible.”
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.