By Yosimbom Sakinatu (YES 2018-2019, Cameroon, placed by PAX in Ogden, UT)
Before I left for the U.S., I was a normal girl with good grades and dreams that she was never sure that she would fulfill. I had the drive to want to make an impact in my community but I never knew how or if I could. We had all these things in my community that I wish could change but I never felt like it was my duty to do so.
And then I was given the opportunity to be an exchange student in my dreamland, where everything happens, including Disneyland, hamburgers, Disney movies, Hollywood, etc. This was a dream come true. I absolutely could not believe it. I was going to live the life of an American teen girl: a big high school, pizza, the beach. I was amazed by how much fun I was going to have. During my in-country Pre-Departure Orientation (PDO) and the PDO in Washington, D.C., I began to understand what being an exchange student actually meant. It was about having goals, getting involved in activities, being with my host family and my host community, making friends—that is the real fun.
I made some goals for myself, such such as creating strong relationships with my host family and friends, being the best version of myself, and more. With my introverted nature, all these goals were not that easy to accomplish, but I had to attain these goals in order to get the most out of my exchange. Among these goals, I was very proud of one in particular. At our PDO, we were been introduced to volunteering and community service, and we were told that if we attained more than 100 hours of volunteering, then we would receive a certificate! One of my goals was to get that certificate.
I got scared my first few months in the U.S. because I wasn't seeing many volunteer opportunities, but my problem was that I wasn't looking for them hard enough. I thought that these opportunities were just supposed to be there waiting for me. But then I started to ask teachers, students, my host parents, and others about volunteer opportunities, and I ended up being a tutor in my school, joining the volunteer club, and volunteering at my host parents' church every Sunday. All I had to do was ask others about opportunities! Doing all these activities without expecting anything in return left me with so much joy, and even with tears in my eyes. I could happily say that I found my true self and who I was really meant to be. I promised myself to bring this joy home and make my community happy like I had become.
Upon my return home, I couldn't wait to start giving back to my community after what I had achieved.
I was full of project ideas and excitement. I learned that to get to where we want in life, we
have to be able to overcome obstacles. After the excitement of being home passed, I experienced reverse culture shock and my family didn't understand the new daughter that they now had. Due to this reverse culture shock and my busy school schedule, my excitement started to fade away. But as exchange students, we come home with new ways of seeing and thinking; we are open-minded and we are ready to make a change. With these new eyes of mine, the problems in my community seemed more concerning than ever before. I learned about getting involved with local alumni, who encourage you not only with words but with their projects and achievements. There is this inexplicable joy that we feel when we complete a project. My excitement returned, and I was ready to give back to my community, no matter what my schedule was because that's what being YES alumni is all about. That's when I realized that I could attain my goal of being the best version of myself—by giving back to my community.
I started by doing a few online webinars and and trainings related to some of my project ideas. I also thought about what in particular drives me to do community service work, and what change I would like to see in my community. I realized that my primary interest was in working with children, girls, women, and people with disabilities. I started projects related to these populations, and whether my project ideas seemed realistic or not, I scribbled them down.
One of the most important projects that I did was one in August 2020 called "Empowering Young Women to Be the Change." The objective of this project was to empower 50 young women of different backgrounds to become the best version of themselves by being the change that we need in our community. The aims of this project were to:
- Develop leadership skills of young women.
- Raise young women’s awareness of their self-esteem and body image, and empower them to see themselves as being worthy.
- Promote economic justice of young women.
- Educate young women on HIV and AIDS and empower them to protect themselves.
- Educate young women about human rights and its relevance to their lives.
- Give young women the opportunity to explore the consequences of conflict, build conflict resolution skills, and acquire confidence to become peace builders and peace promoters in their communities and beyond.
- Educate young women about their sexual and reproductive health and rights and how to protect them.
This project was a turning point for me because it was the first large project that I organized. Everything seems so big to my small self. I learned a lot from the challenges that I faced during this project, and my leadership skills and project management skills increased drastically. When I first planned this project, one of my objectives was to create a network with these women, which we would all join in order to give back to the community. I surrounded myself with the best trainers, who shared the same objectives as I did. After it ended, we created a WhatsApp group with all of the participants and trainers from the project. Together, we founded the Ngaoundere Women Volunteer Association (NWOVA) and since then, we have been doing activities for our community. This is a dream come true to me because my aim was to give back to my community and I was able to gather a group people who shared this same idea.
With the success of this last grant project, I was excited to carry out another grant project this year. I am currently working on a grant project called "Young Women Entrepreneurs." This project will train 40 young girls and women from the ages of 18 to 35 years old on entrepreneurship by providing them with skills in pastry making and handcrafts, with which they can use to put food on their table and be financially independent. The aims of this project are to:
- Educate women on entrepreneurship and how to be an entrepreneur.
- Provide necessary skills to women with which they can use to start a business.
- Raise young women’s awareness of their self-esteem and empower them to see themselves as worthy.
- Promote economic justice and economic independence in women.
- Promote conservation and protection of the earth and its resources through training on upcycling.
I dedicate most of my projects to women and girls because I live in a community where we are regarded as vulnerable creatures who need to be protected and told what to do. In these cases, we are not heard and our wants and needs are not listened to. I want to be the voice of girls and women in my community and I will fight for them.