Mai Mai ’22 has thoughtfully provided this reflection about her time as a Middlebury College student abroad and her involvement in community engagement work. Mai has been involved with Language in Motion and received two Cross Cultural Community Engagement Grants to lead projects in Cameroun. For more information about Language in Motion, check out the Language in Motion website. To learn more about Cross Cultural Community Engagement Grants, please visit the CCCE website or our previous blog post, Grant Spotlight: Cross-Cultural Community Engagement.
Even though I have not officially graduated yet, it is indeed difficult to feel that I am still enrolled as a Middlebury student, since my current world and my new reality in Cameroun now are so different. Once in a while, as I think of Middlebury, my time there feels like a past life. Yet, I would say one thing that connects my life at Middlebury and in Cameroun now is the Center for Community Engagement.
I would certainly say that I am a big fan of the CCE particularly, as the CCE grants have enabled me to engage in any kind of communal projects, whether big or small, since my first year at college. Now that I am and will be in Cameroun for a year, I feel grateful more than ever for the CCE specifically, and for Middlebury in general for its initiative to have the Center encourage students to implement or to take part in any kind of community work. In Cameroun, there is so much space for humanitarian projects, and the country’s young population shows great potential for human resources. Yet, unfortunately, there is a lack of internal financial support for this kind of project or entrepreneurship and little investment in the young. Therefore, I realize how lucky we all are, Middlebury College students, to belong to a community where we are encouraged and even sponsored financially to develop our sense of community leadership and engagement through volunteer work and humanitarian projects.
Concerning Cameroun, the CCE has enabled me to work with the NGO “Smiles for Women” (SDF) whose mission is to educate and transform young girls who are found to be victims of violence and sexual abuse in Cameroun, particularly those in the countryside or suburb areas. I first worked remotely with SDF as an intern during J-term. Afterward, being inspired by the dedicated work and intention of the NGO, I continued to work with Viviane, the association’s director, to organize a conference for young girls in Yaoundé. Since psychological consultation is still taboo in Cameroun, the conference offers a safe space for young girls and women who experienced the same trauma to address the unsaid. We also had a guest speaker who delivered a workshop about healing, women leadership in Cameroun, and finally about practical work on how to make the sanitary path as many girls in the countryside cannot afford them.
This semester, thanks to the CCE grant (again), we are making the project “club for young girls in the rural area of Akonolinga” come true. The project aims to encourage the continuation of school within the community. In addition, I am continuing the letter exchange activities in French with local high school students at Middlebury. We have been exchanging letters since my sophomore year. Thus, it is interesting to continue while I am in Cameroun, as with the students, we exchange what we learned and unlearned when it comes to Africa in general, and Cameroun specifically.
My philosophy is that birth is a lottery. Thus, seeing that by luck, I was born more fortunate than others makes me feel obligated to utilize any resources to at least contribute something to the community around me. And the CCE offers me an opportunity to do this, not only to become an active student in communal life but also to become a conscious one. I feel lucky and thankful. As a senior who will finish her Middlebury career soon, I would humbly want to encourage young generations of Middlebury to make good use of the CCE during their four years at Middlebury. Though we tend to be overwhelmed with academic work at Middlebury, I could assure you that participating in a communal project through the CCE provides us a practical aspect to thrive in life: building community, learning to be compassionate and critical, and finally learning to be more mindful and active in the community around us.