This April 26-28, iEARN is proud once again to be a Global Youth Service Day partner and help celebrate young people making a positive contribution to the health and welfare of the planet and its people. Similar to how Every Day is Earth Day for our network, every day is also a day for youth to serve their local and global communities. For 25 years iEARN has asked all project participants to address the question, “How will this project improve the quality of life on the planet?”
We’ve also asked all exchange program partners and participants the same question. An example of a service-oriented exchange program that iEARN helped design and launch is the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program. During the first year of YES in 2003, iEARN-Pakistan helped develop the overall strategy for incorporating technology-enhanced community service into the YES experience before, during, after students traveled to the United States. Ann Stock, the United States Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, shares the results of this strategy after ten years:
The facts are impressive. More than 10,000 American families in 2,400 U.S. towns in every state and Washington D.C. have been involved in hosting and supporting YES students. This year alone, 547 high schools are hosting YES students. YES students have completed over 340,000 hours of community service, while almost 250 YES students this year alone earned certificates for performing over 100 hours of volunteer service in their U.S. host communities. The volunteer spirit does not stop when the students return home from their exchange. Alumni are acting on what they learned on their YES exchange and making a difference in their communities and in our world by serving as mentors to and tutoring children, teaching English, promoting environmental conservation awareness, starting libraries, adopting grandparents, setting up basic literacy and computer centers, and starring in a top-rated local reality TV series.
The impact of YES alumni who have returned to their countries to serve their communities continues to be impressive. Hassan Saeed is one such example, an iEARN YES alumnus for whom Global Youth Service Day is now every day. Whether through his Open Doors Literacy Project work or his current trip to Washington DC to help launch the new Empower Access Program, Hassan keeps moving forward with his career trajectory-altering work.
Recently, Hassan shared his thoughts about a workshop he organized and led at a Special Education Complex in Peshawar, Pakistan:
Over the past couple of years, my life has taken a huge turn. From being a potential candidate in family for Engineering to a dedicated social worker, the journey isn’t a short one. It took a huge amount of effort, guidance, affection and faith for me to shift my careers. Being a development sector enthusiast is a responsibility in itself. It comes with its implications. I have realized over time that to be able to change the way people behave, you have to set a good example. You, however, are not alone in this process.
The next few paragraphs will summarize my experience of a workshop YES Alumni Peshawar conducted with mentally disabled students at Special Education Complex, Peshawar on 22nd and 23rd February, 2013. The total number of participant students was 50. I’m attempting to cherish the joy, comfort and happiness on the faces of those beautiful children by putting pen to paper and jotting down my feelings although I am aware of the difficulty to do so.
The idea was to engage the students in interactive cognitive, physical, social and creative activities, exercises and games in order to enhance their existing skills and provide them with an opportunity to learn by starting with basics. Importantly, we wanted to revive the lost attention of the society towards such group of people who are a part of our social structure and have due rights and we did this to raise awareness towards this cause. This might be the result of unintended incidents, but there is no excuse for adults to not act elderly. Therefore, in an attempt to improve the unstructured system, this was much timely and needed.
During the two days of workshop, the students were involved in several activities as they were coloring, playing with balloons, play dough, cricket, volleyball, table tennis and other such games in order to relax their muscles and brain. They were also given a session about “seven steps of hand-washing” which was very helpful in developing their habit. There were practical demonstrations done by some students who taught their fellows, which boosted their self-esteem and confidence. Also, they were playing music, dancing and singing as they enjoyed their time and ensured maximum learning from the workshop. The students were taught about basic numbers, names of fruits, animals, vegetables and vehicles. The workshop concluded with smiles all around.
This doesn’t end here. This is start of a new game in town; to help the underprivileged and accept them as a part of our society. Through this workshop, we raised awareness among our friends and family. I’ve realized that handicapped children are extremely talented with God-gifted abilities. They require good care and considerable handling and the results will speak for themselves. Each student at the school wants us to believe this in order to maintain the unspeakable love and affection; towards a better community. The good work shall continue!
Note: I also celebrated my 21st birthday during the workshop. Best birthday ever!
When asked if his year at a high school in Topeka, Kansas impacted his choice to focus on social work, Hassan replied:
Definitely. I received the President’s Award for completing 100 hours of community services. Here is the link to an article I wrote back in May 2009 before I was preparing to come back to Pakistan from my exchange year
I am proud to be a part of iEARN and YES. They’ve shaped up my life. … We are a force of common individuals sharing a global culture working towards a similar goal.
As iEARN celebrates its 25th Anniversary, we’re looking back with pride at the thousands of youth service activities our participants have performed around the world. We’re also looking forward with anticipation to thousands more service projects during the next 25 years. As Hassan says, this doesn’t end here.