I grew up in Cameroon, and I spend most of my time in the
capital, Yaoundé. Since my father worked for the government, my living
conditions were better than for the majority of people there who have limited
opportunities to work or take care of their families.
As the son of an
ambassador, I got the opportunity to travel and live in different countries
including Sudan, France and Angola. But my experiences weren’t always exciting.
When I lived in the Republic of the Congo in 1993, I
witnessed the devastation that a civil war can bring to a country that has been
paralyzed with political instability and economic stagnation. My father, Dr.
Jean-Marie Lenou, Cameroon’s ambassador in Congo, agreed to stay there to
assist our fellow Cameroonians who were trying to flee the region and return
home. A group of Cameroonians was afraid to leave their homes, so my father
decided to drive through the violence and help them. Since my father was not
able to persuade me to stay at home, I sat next to him while our chauffeur
drove us to the “hot zone.”
I observed soldiers pointing guns and shouting
indiscriminately at children who were leaving schools. Looking at the dead
bodies of little children piling up in the streets, I could not fight back
tears as I realized that the children, who did nothing wrong, had become
casualties of civil war. This experience moved me to study conflict analysis and
resolution, in the hope of preventing those sorts of atrocities from shattering
the lives of other innocent children and families.
In 2010, Northeastern University admitted me to its
undergraduate program in Political Science. During spring breaks, I made
frequent trips home and was disappointed to see that economic conditions
remained deleterious. Indeed, I found my country much the same as the one in
which I’d grown.
I noticed that the doors of sustained economic development
continued to be shut as the income per capita tumbled and unemployment rate
increased. Most importantly, I was saddened to see that people in my hometown
of Bamougoum in Cameroon’s Western province still lacked access to clean water
and medical care. I saw that small children still had to walk at least a mile
with empty containers to get water near rivers and then haul it back home.
As of 2013, Cameroon ranked 150 out 187 countries in the
United Nations Human Development Index. Cameroon is, in my estimation,
inefficient and restrictive because it behaves like a Leviathan where alliances
between politicians and powerful elites form to the detriment of ordinary
Staring at the government failure in Cameroon, I yearned to
reinvent that government and mold it into an effective, efficient, competitive,
To accomplish that goal, I needed to identify a graduate
program in public administration that would meet, even exceed, my expectations.
DePaul’s School of Public Service turned out to be my choice. SPS would provide
me with the management, public policy implementation and research tools that I
needed to advance effective and equitable public policies in Cameroon.
I also appreciated SPS for its educational mission, rigorous
program, faculty expertise, and campus location. SPS embodies the Vincentian
history, spirituality, and service that fosters inclusiveness, nurtures
diversity, promotes leadership, achieves academic excellence, and unleashes the
hidden potential of every student. Behind the leadership of Director Bob Stokes, the department is offering new specializations and increasing study
aboard opportunities so that students can blend practice and theory.
In addition, I found the faculty well rounded and easily
accessible. I was touched by the informal relationship that exists between
faculty and students. This form of symbolic humility ignites student passion of
learning and self-actualization.
Even though I am 6,500 miles away from Cameroon, SPS makes
me feel at home. The location of SPS in a global, vibrant, and cosmopolitan
city of Chicago also appeals to me because Chicago represents a laboratory for
research, internships, and service learning opportunities.
And then there’s DePaul’s namesake.
Vincent de Paul said: “It is good to have a personal life
mission. It is even better if is unselfish and lofty.” This principle will
guide my professional life as I strive to bring peace in tumultuous regions of
the world, transform the Cameroonian government, and make it more responsive to
the needs of the people.