Today I got a hit of what my days will be like once the rainy season ends.  This morning the sun cut through the clouds on my way to the Bueatown school to try and meet with the principal there.  She was not there and I found out that school was not a high school but a secondary school - oops - they also don’t have any internet connectivity.  Given these two things the prospects of moving into this school seem slim.  However, we know we want to maintain a connection to the school - or any school really - so, we’ll see how we can stay engaged.

YAN - despite the very hard work and many efforts of previous fellows is still establishing itself in Buea.  We have a great relationship with the school we began our program in; but, it is still a struggle to establish relationships with appropriate new schools. 

The number one rule of international development is to work smarter not harder.  This means finding projects that can be sustainable; partners who can build your work one year to grow the next year.  This means YAN doesn’t want to just expand - YAN wants to expand in places where our programs will be worthwhile, impactful, and sustainable. 

It reminds me of a conversation I had with a Peace Corps volunteer who was passing through from the North West.  She, after over two years in country, was a bit disillusioned with the whole development industry.  She observed water pumps not being maintained and beneficiaries she worked with who asked for computers when there was barely enough electricity to light the room.  Sadly, this is not an uncommon story.

But, not unlike the sun a month before the rainy season ends there are small rays of hope you have to cling to in this industry.  Here in Buea the water pumps are maintained.  Every first Wednesday the community of Buea, organized by neighborhood, meet together to clean them up, chat about life, and take some collective action.  Whether it was the government or a foreign NGO that set up this system - I don’t know.  It doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that the people are participating.  Someone, at some point, explained what was needed to bring fresh water to the community and the community responded.  They picked up the torch and moved forward.

YAN’s program is no different from a water pump project in this respect.   Teaching high schoolers about social networking and making documentaries is an otherwise superfluous task when you think about the mountains of challenges facing the poorest children in this city.  Unless, you believe in the ability of these children to see the value and take up the social responsibility along with the social networking.

There is no question - the young people of Cameroon are isolated from one another geographically and culturally; whether you are talking about the French speakers verses the English speakers; or, if you are speaking of the difficulty and expense for the average Cameroonian to travel from Buea to the capital.  This isolation might make a child here feel like the problems she is facing are unique to her community alone.  She may feel it is impossible to take action against these challenges because she feels like she must do so alone.

There in lies the critical importance of YAN’s program - connecting students with the national and global community to discuss these issues and - where warranted - take collective action for change. 

Walters reported to me that last year there was a protest at the University of Buea about the prices of food and gas.  Eight students were killed in this otherwise peaceful community - an event a man like Walters will surely not forget as he enters university himself.  All I could think of was the sacrifice of those students - and of those like them all over the world.  Those who are successful in their protest and those who are not.

Collective action is not a catch-all solution to the problems facing Buea; but, I can’t help but believe that if students at all the universities across Cameroon were protesting in solidarity together the outcome may have been different.  I cannot help but know that the issues facing the people of Buea are similar to those faced in Douala and Younde.  That if these students are able to connect with one another; share ideas, challenges, and struggles - then they have much more power then they do alone.

While the revolution in Egypt seems distant to the people of Buea there are lessons applicable here:  use what technology has to offer to make the distance across this country smaller and make communication faster.  Connect with those who are not like you and learn from the connection.  History is not made by the Mandela’s and the Ghandi’s we revere - but, instead by the people who worked with them both out of self interest and in solidarity.  It is made by the student who connects with the furniture maker who then both attend an event and broadcast it to the world where others can learn about their struggle and take action themselves.

YAN is empowering the future leaders of Cameroon - those diverse children who have only ever known one President in their lives and one way of living - by connecting them to the global community, each other, and to local leaders making mini-revolutions across the country.  In doing so YAN is  setting the stage for home grown change.  It is a heavy task for these kids - even if right now they think they are just learning how to make movies.  I see the light breaking through the clouds and when the sun comes out it will indeed be a beautiful day.