Well office hours have started and I think they’ve been quite a success for both the students and myself.  I, despite my missing roommate, have kept myself busy and happy and they are getting much needed practice on the computer.  Although, as I write this, the Internet is down and we’ve planned to give it an hour before we give up.


The proposal I’ve been working on is coming along nicely and the survey is fully underway.  I’m excited about the potential partnerships, the guest speakers, and the inspiration for the kids.  You can make things happen if you work hard.  Not that I, or even YAN would provide that inspiration:  I’m excited for them to meet real civil society leaders in their community and in towns across the Southwest.  People who did not come from much but have made a life for themselves - doing the work that they love to help their people.   These kids who spend their weekends selling bread in the place where I catch my ride to the beach need that kind of inspiration and it’s not something I’ll ever be able to provide.


They’ve picked their topics and I can say that they are at least excited enough to make it to office hours on a regular basis.  I told them in class I wanted them to stick to internationally recognized development projects – poverty, the environment, health, and the like.  They have done very well in their topics and express a wide variety of interests that I never thought of when I was that age. 


Anti-corruption struck me from the start.  Not only that a child would chose such a controversial subject; but mostly that, here, in a place where corruption is a problem that is for the most part placated to a child would have the bravery to say he wanted to learn more.  There are two groups looking into poverty – one specifically focused on issues of hunger and another on unemployment.  The final group is concerned with the environment.  I should be surprised by their choices.  In the beginning these were the topics that I would in their essays; these were the topics they brought up when we discuss what would make Cameroon perfect; these are the topics that most affect their lives. 


I have spent many hours in training sessions – imparting to the participants that the most important thing you can do from a programmatic and communication perspective is to involve primary stakeholders in your decision-making.  They know their problems – it’s your job to figure out how those problems fit into your mission and vision for your organization (or if they don’t).  In some instances – especially those related to health – people don’t always know what’s good for them and it’s vital to get correct information out there.  But, you discovered that there was a health issue because people complained about being sick or of babies dying.  You did not discover that there was a health issue because you just happened to go test the water.  You tested the water when you had a reason to test it.  Primary stakeholders bring the issues of the community to the forefront and it is our job as development professionals to listen and react with their needs and realities in mind. 


So, with the interests of my students in mind I’m working on the proper reaction.  I’m giving them more of my time and more computer time.  I’m going to bend over backwards to find civil society leaders they can interview and who will come and speak to our class.  Most importantly, I’m going to do what I can to shake them from the idea that the only way they learn is to repeat and recite.  These kids need to be told that they are smart, that they are capable, and that they have all the tools they need to make a good life.  That’s empowerment and I plan to do whatever I can to emphasize that YAN is not just about outcomes but also about the journey to get there.