By Nadege Flora Ndum Dze (YES 2013-2014, Cameroon, hosted by AFS in Cleveland, OH)
I had never dreamed of going to the United States but the YES program shone a light on an unforeseen dream. In the U.S. I saw how homeless people were fed, prisoners visited, and youths mobilized to work together in order to better their community. I couldn’t help but fall in love with this immense yet humble and kind gesture most Americans possessed. I made a promise to myself that once I returned to Cameroon, I would try my best to instill this newfound love in my family, friends, and community so that together, we will use our skills to better our societies. I knew it was going to be a tough task but with the help of other alumni, the YES program, and the community, we could make this dream a reality. What is so important to highlight and focus on throughout this spotlight is the fact that all I have done as a YES alumna is a result of teamwork. If I happen to be the spotlight of the month, I have to mention the other Cameroon YES 11 alumni with whom I have been working.
I mainly do projects with other Cameroon YES 11 alumni and we do it for the YES program. We have carried a series of projects in Dschang since that’s where our parents reside and where we attended secondary school. However, many of us have been leaving in order to pursue tertiary studies. But we are trying to keep the volunteer spirit burning by organizing and partaking in projects in the various locations we find ourselves in the country (in my case Bamenda).
YES seminars and workshops has provided our alumni association with the skills and opportunities to make some of the projects that we only imagined in our heads a reality. But YES has given me more than seminars and workshops – my greatest lesson learned during my exchange year was that of being open-minded and accepting differences. My host mother, Carolyn Neal, and my Cluster Coordinator, Carla Bailey, encouraged me to see the world with an open mind. At first, I had trouble with anything that didn’t reflect with my principles and beliefs, but now I try to understand other points of view and accept people for who they are; not worse or better than I am but just different. It is for this change that I try to see the good in everyone and always learn something new and good from all those I encounter. This greatly helps me identify their needs, so I figure out how to help them either financially, morally, or socially. Ultimately, I think this makes me a better volunteer.
Since becoming a YES alumna I’ve organized an event that promotes African authors and celebrates literature, organized English competitions, developed cultural exchange days, collected donations for orphanages and disadvantaged schools, promoted proper hygiene, taught computer sciences, and shared the spirit of volunteering with hundreds of community members. I select problems which I think are most pressing and important at the moment and try to solve them in my own little way. If one looks at all the projects I have been doing, they will realize I don’t focus on a single domain, for example in the field of education or environmental sustainability. This is because I want to help as many people as I can in different fields but most of all because these projects are designed to solve the most pressing and affordable problems. I love to see smiles on the faces of people - this is my driving force.
Every YES alumni association project leaves a great mark on the community; participants who attend workshops or trainings we host frequently join volunteer groups because of our seminars. Other participants have joined us at a later date when we are starting a new YES alumni association service project. When we see such love instilled in them, all we can do is give our thanks to God and hope to do more in the near future. Some younger students view us as role models and want to become a YES student. This has motivated them to concentrate and focus on being successful in their academics. We are glad to be a motivating factor to our younger ones. And now although I don’t have the finances to help as many as I want to help, I can help a good number and spread the message of service and extend a helping hand to others.
What I have in store for future projects is so voluminous. I will like to help poor old abandoned grandparents in villages (a project I always have wanted to carry out since elementary school days), I would like to help promote gender equality, health care, and education. But I have one project in mind that I would really like to pursue: I would like to design a project that encourages youth to pursue their dreams and talents. Unlike in America where talents are encouraged as soon as they are identified, in Cameroon, most youths tend to lose their talents because of peer pressure, family hindrances and self-underestimation. In America as I discovered, children are encouraged to join competitions and they can even get scholarships because of their athletic abilities or their musical talents. In Cameroon, most of these youths hide these talents because most parents only advocate for medics/lawyers/engineers. Hence, these talents die along the way.
Other than with the YES Program, I volunteer with my church group (Cadets of Mary Immaculate) and last year in Dschang, I volunteered with an NGO by name Uni2grow Cameroon in which I had to complete 100 hours of community service.