By Daize Merville Njounkeng (YES 2017-18, Cameroon, hosted by PAX in Zanesville, IN)
From the very start, I have wanted to become the best version of myself in service for humanity. While on the YES program, my greatest lesson was that no one is complete but that we all need each other. I have always been a bold person, but my exchange experience showed me how to channel my zeal and enthusiasm towards the right things. Through public speaking I have made some incredible relationships. I have been given several opportunities to present spoken word at concerts and even at school; I have peers sharing their life stories with me. I’m so grateful for all the connections I have made and continue to make as a YES alumna. It has been a journey of self-discovery and development, one that has taught me that being different is beautiful.
While on exchange, I availed every opportunity to volunteer and every opportunity to build myself as a better leader. The Civic Education Week and the International Education Week were my highlights as an exchange student. All the lessons I learned during these experiences have shaped me into who I am today. The major thing I had in mind while returning home were the community service projects ahead of me. I already had a list of what I planned to accomplish, so much so that returning home to start serving the community was the most exciting thought.
Ever since I came home, I have led and participated in several projects: gender based violence sensitization, town cleaning, donations to orphanages, conferences on sex education, leadership conferences, motivational speaking and a workshop for internally displaced youths.
My project, “Restoring Hope to Internally Displaced Youths”, was a small grant project aimed at equipping 40 youth in my region with self-sustainable skills. The project came at the right time, as the youths were forced to flee from their homes, others lost properties, some were wounded and some lost family members as a result of the socio-political crisis that hit our region. Most of the youths who participated had not been to school for a while, they hawked day and night just to fend for themselves. Others had to move from one relative’s house to the other, just to have a roof over their heads.
When our team went in search for the participants, I made a lot of connections with the community. One story that brought me to tears was that of a 13-year-old girl, who lost her father to the fight and whose family now lives in bushes, surviving with what nature provides. This young girl now lives with her aunt but the story hasn’t been the best. It’s stories like these that have helped me find my purpose. Through partnering with some local organizations, and with the help from YES alumni and some volunteers, we trained 40 youth on how to make soap, fish-pies, beaded jewelry, and provided them with free healthcare. We understood that these young people needed something to cling to, a source of income and they needed to know someone cared. The project not only benefited the participants but, I too, got a chance to grow and develop myself. Working with a team of 40 teenagers is a very hard task but together we were able to meet our target for the common good.
Working as a YES alumna has helped me discover my purpose. Through volunteering in several different areas, I have learned what my passion is. During my exchange program, I spent every Wednesday and Sunday with the Sunday school children at my local church (Hope Missionaries). I have always been attached to children. Children are certainly the most innocent beings and shouldn’t have to suffer for any reason. This has inspired me on what I want to do my whole life — dedicate myself to the service of others, especially children. I plan to open an orphanage that will take these children off the streets and give them a home.
It is with no doubt that everything about me changed when I returned from the YES program. I am more open to new experiences, trying new things, meeting new people, and of course, organizing projects. The program, has widened my world to numerous opportunities and advantages. From my host family, to my friends and teachers at school, to the entire staff of the YES program and my friends all around the world — the program brought the world to me.
A few words to the on-program students and alumni around the world: I didn’t come from a wealthy family but the YES program gave me an opportunity to make a wealth of connections and now, I’m more than ready to sacrifice everything I have to make another person’s life better. You have what it takes to make a change so learn to improve yourself. Be different!
Never relent your efforts to make somebody’s life comfortable, we all have what it takes to lead the world. Remember that life isn’t an easy journey but never be afraid to take risks, try everything! SAY YES!