Bringing New Perspectives Home to Cameroon

Patricia sits in front of a banner describing the goals of her alumni project.
Patricia Meche Tamgno, a young woman with albinism from Cameroon, lived with a host family and attended high school in Coos Bay, Oregon, as part of the U.S. Department of State-sponsored Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program.

The main reason I applied to the YES program to the United States was because I wanted to experience a place where people are different, yet not judged by their differences; a place where my abilities would be seen objectively. My parents were really encouraging because they knew my determination and capacity for overcoming difficulties.

As for me, I was a little nervous about going into a new world on my own and attending high school in the United States. Because I have vision issues related to albinism, I was a little concerned about how I would do in a new environment. My teachers in the United States were very supportive. They knew about my disability, so made sure I was able to sit near the front in my classrooms to see well.

I encourage exchange students with disabilities to ask for help whenever they need to; in my experience, people in the U.S. are more than happy to help.

I also had a very loving and supportive host family. My family didn’t have any disability experience before they met me, but my host dad quickly became interested in learning more about albinism and always tried to find ways to help me. Two of my three host siblings were still living at home at the time, one of whom was also in high school. She really helped me find my way around our school.

My YES experience made me see that people with disabilities can reach their full potential if they have the support they need; we shouldn’t be underestimated, but rather, challenged. And it’s important that young people with disabilities challenge themselves. Don’t get in the habit of saying, ‘I’m not able to do this,’ or ‘I will never be able to do that,’ but try, try again and again, step by step, and you will get there.

Prior to my YES experience, I dreamed of pursuing a career in medicine, and I still do, but my experience in the United States has made me consider other options that would involve my new leadership skills, like international relations.

The YES program has a very involved alumni community and many opportunities for continued leadership training and civic engagement. In 2014, I participated in the YES Alumni Transformational Leadership Training (TLT) Workshop in Rabat, Morocco, after which I applied for an alumni grant to conduct an anti-discrimination campaign to educate people in my country about albinism. My project, “Who is an Albino? A Person like You!” was selected for funding and I conducted my campaign in February 2015.

The main reason I did this project was because I wanted to help people around me know exactly what albinism is and what it is not. I wanted to share the perspective on disability and diversity that I experienced in the U.S., and continue to experience in my YES community, one in which being different is not a problem. Inside, I also wanted to know what it would feel like to share for the first time my own experience as a person with albinism in front of an audience.

Patricia continues to share her experience as a person with albinism, both in Cameroon, and with the world. She was one of twelve YES alumni from around the world invited to share her unique global story at the first YESTalks event in Tunis, Tunisia, on April 23, 2015.