By Joseph Lambe (YES 2012-2013, Cameroon, placed by AFS-USA in Eden, NY)
My name is Joseph Lambe, YES alumnus and president of the Cameroon YES Alumni Association (CYAA). With a Master’s degree in Law, specializing in Digital Law, my professional journey is anchored in a deep passion for making a positive impact on the lives of those around me. This passion found its roots in 2012, when I was selected for the YES program.
My exchange year stands as a turning point in my life, a pivotal period that allowed me to discover my true self through exposure to diverse perceptions. Immediately after my arrival in my host community, I faced a level of culture shock I had never known before. Everything was different. Coming from a bustling city in Cameroon to the tranquil, small, predominantly white town of Eden, I faced the challenge of adapting to an entirely different way of life. Fortunately, adapting to my host community was a smooth process, thanks to the warm and welcoming nature of its residents. My host family played a crucial role in this transition, introducing me to a wide array of enjoyable activities. I had the privilege of exploring many states and engaging in exciting adventures, such as hiking, boat cruises, roller coasters, and beach games. The volunteering opportunities I engaged in were truly instrumental in shaping my character and nurturing my passion for having a meaningful impact on the lives of others. I dedicated over a hundred hours to volunteering at school, church, retirement homes, daycares, and at the Eden Fire Department.
When I came back to Cameroon, I had the urge to have my community benefit from what I gained during my exchange year. I started implementing numerous projects and activities within the YES alumni community in Cameroon. These projects encompassed a wide spectrum of initiatives, from environmental conservation and combatting the spread of malaria to mentoring other young individuals in leadership and project management and organizing Christmas celebrations for underprivileged children.
This year, I decided to focus my efforts on empowering young girls in my community with communication skills. I observed that a significant number of young Cameroonian girls lack the confidence to express themselves in public, leaving them vulnerable to gender inequality and abuse. Many internally displaced persons (IDPs), driven by the desperate search for food and shelter, have fallen victim to abusers. Although there are many initiatives put in place by the government and civil society organizations to curb these problems, I wanted to contribute. This inspired me to apply for a YES Alumni Grant to implement Let Her Speak, a project that aimed to empower and enable young girls to speak out and address challenges in their communities.
Let Her Speak was a two-week intensive training program, equipping 30 girls with essential communication skills. I collaborated with several local organizations that provided us with resources to ensure successful implementation. The first week of the training focused on lectures, coupled with video demonstrations of outstanding speakers, so they could understand and assimilate the basics of debate and public speaking.
The second week was dedicated to practical sessions that allowed us to identify strengths and areas for improvement, providing personalized feedback to help each participant enhance their skills. We also organized a lively debate and public speaking tournament, where the top three speakers and the two best debate teams were awarded prizes. Remarkably, one of our partner organizations stepped forward to sponsor them for the national debate and public speaking championship coming up in November 2023.
One participant noted, "This exhilarating program has truly transformed me, both personally and professionally. I am immensely grateful for the memories made, the lessons learned, and the lifelong connections forged."
Our partner organizations are committed to providing ongoing support to the trainees. This support includes offering small grants for their advocacy projects; sponsoring their participation in public speaking and debate tournaments; assisting them in establishing or joining debate and public speaking clubs in their schools to share their knowledge with other young individuals; and connecting them with additional opportunities for skill development.
Looking ahead, I plan to organize a second edition of this project next year, with the ambitious aim of expanding its reach to benefit even more young individuals, with a particular focus on supporting IDPs. My hope is to witness youth making a lasting difference, through the power of their voices.
The success of this project was made possible through the unwavering support of numerous organizations, including the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), the U.S. Embassy in Yaoundé, American Councils for International Education, iEARN, CYAA, U.S. Exchange Programs Alumni Network Cameroon, Baseline Orators Network, Commonwealth Students Union, and Mboa Hub. Equally instrumental to our achievement was the dedication and hard work of iEARN-Cameroon staff, my fellow alumni project teammates, namely Hermann, Kenneth, and Elisabeth, our trainers Beatrice and Theophile, and the numerous volunteers who generously contributed their time and effort.