In Cameroon, the weather is almost always sunny. The sun glistens on the large green leaves of every tree. I remember being driven through the busy streets of Yaoundé - the country’s capital - buying snacks from women selling roasted plantains, plums, and peanuts from buckets over their heads. Watching as motorcycles wove their way around cars in traffic. Eating mangoes, papayas, and avocados grown in my grandparents compound in Bamenda. Hearing the latest hit music playing from storefronts. The most fun of all was watching the Miss Cameroon Pageant on TV.
I’ve been visiting Cameroon frequently since I was 9 months old, but at age two I found myself questioning the differences between Cameroon and the U.S. How come there are some dirt roads in Cameroon? How come a city like Yaoundé can look more developed than my hometown of Flint? How come the internet connection in Cameroon is weaker than in the U.S.? Through asking questions, I became aware of inequities in both Cameroon and Flint and I was inspired to do something.
I started the first of many philanthropic projects at age 5. I raised money to buy toys, art supplies, books, clothes, and food for an orphanage in Cameroon. My mom and I flew to the orphanage to present the supplies. I did arts and crafts and read stories to the kids. Many of the children were not fully clothed and did not have shoes. I knew that I wanted to go back, and I did when I was 9 years old. At the same time I started my own scarf making business and raised $1,134 for an organization in Flint that provided support services for victims of domestic abuse and the unemployed. I made care packages for the victims and their children and organized a group of my friends and I to go play with children of the unemployed parents.
What continues to motivate me as an adolescent is the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. In 2014, the terrorist group began kidnapping Nigerian girls from boarding schools. Boko Haram soon did the same in Cameroon. This made me put my life into perspective. Had my parents decided to stay in Cameroon, at age 10, I could have been attending boarding school and by 11, I could have been another girl that the world hashtags “BringBackOurGirls” for. Seeing an alternate version of my life play out in the news made me grateful for the opportunities that I have in the U.S. I take notes in class for every girl that was abducted. I spend hours studying at the library for the 112 girls that are still missing. I go to my professor's office hours for every girl that was raped and impregnated. I help my peers who struggle with the material for every girl that was found but never returned to school. I do this because I know that if the abducted girls had the same opportunities that I do, their lives would look a lot different. These girls helped me realize even more the privileges I have in the U.S. and continue to inspire me to make my communities better.
My own education and sense of identity would be incomplete without my experiences in Cameroon. These experiences have taught me that education is more than what you learn in the classroom. It’s what you learn about the people around you and the ability to turn your understanding into change. I never miss an opportunity to educate myself and others because in this day and age, misunderstandings are too costly. As I’m becoming an adult in this world, I want to help build more empathy. So many conflicts arise from the us vs. them mentality. But if we always start as us and them trying to find a solution, we may all end up in a more equitable society.