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A journey from poverty and brutality to DePaul

By Romuald Lenou, School of Public Service

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

Children carry containers to fetch drinkable water in Romuald Lenou’s hometown of Bamougoum, Cameroon.
New York Times best seller Marianne Williamson wrote those words to remind us that despite the innate intricacies of human nature, our ability
to shape the world remains unshakable.

Williamson’s call for resilience has been a hallmark of my life, and I am eager to share with you part of my journey and how I came to enroll at DePaul University’s School of Public Service. 

I’m here because I’ve seen children slaughtered, and I want to help shape a world in which that stops happening. I’m also here because I grew up in a country that fails to serve its people, some of whom don’t have adequate drinking water, and I want to help change that.

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 people.

Staring at the government failure in Cameroon, I yearned to reinvent that government and mold it into an effective, efficient, competitive, mission-driven institution.

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.


Graduate assistant Romuald Lenou is pursing a Master of Public Administration degree at the School of Public Service.