This week the YES program is highlighting India as part of the 15th anniversary "Around the World" celebrations!
To mark the 15th anniversary of the YES Program, last month YES alumni in India, together with AFS India, conducted a week-long domestic exchange program, “Discovering Through Experience,” with youth from the DLF Public School, Sahibabad and Delhi Public School, Srinagar. The YES program was founded with the understanding that there is a pressing need to counter prejudice and discrimination through intercultural understanding, and to inspire youth to become leaders who engage in and promote volunteerism and global citizenship.
Today in India, there is a need to help youth gain awareness of and address intolerance, prejudices, and fear of differences, and provide them with the skills and tools to live and work in a multi-cultural society. The aim of the domestic exchange program was to provide the opportunity for youth, as well as educators, from these two schools to engage in dialogue and structured experiential learning to increase their intercultural competency and leadership skills. The hosted students also shared their local cultures and traditions, increasing awareness of the diversity within their own country.
Throughout the week, 12 students from DPS Srinagar were hosted by the DLF School and engaged in collaborative activities with 17 students from the DLF School. Being with a host family gave them an opportunity to create a strong bond and a lifelong intercultural relationship. As one participant wrote, “I learned to adapt to other surroundings. I came to know about my host family’s religion. Throughout the week, I learned new skills which are going to help me in the future. Facilitators taught us how to live with unity and shun violence with a focus on a peaceful world.”
YES alumni facilitated several curriculum sessions on topics such as peace education, global citizenship, conflict transformation and interfaith harmony. Guest speaker Maria Khan, a member of the Centre for Peace and Spirituality, gave a talk on interfaith harmony. YES alumna Aajra Shaikh (2007-08, hosted with AFS in Maine), who facilitated a day-long session on interfaith harmony/dialogue, reflected: “The session went very smoothly. I enjoyed speaking to the students and was stunned to see their interaction on a very sensitive topic. I loved the way they came up with never-ending questions for me and for the fellow participants. Their enthusiasm kept me going for the rest of the day and none of us felt tired during the day-long session. Their ideas about how to keep up the interfaith harmony work in their own schools and communities were startling.”
To model volunteerism and what it means to be an active global citizen, all the participating students took part in an experiential community service activity by volunteering to clean a local park. This was followed by a community service session by the NGO Goonj. Goonj’s award winning School to School initiative benefits thousands of remote village/slum schools in India. The initiative encourages more affluent, larger schools in urban areas of India to collect extra or used supplies, package them as school kits, and donate them to under-funded schools who lack access to similar resources. Participating students learned how to initiate a School to School campaign in their schools and communities.
YES alumnus Aadil Fahim (2007-08, hosted with AFS in Illinois), a facilitator and one of the event organizers, commented: “Being able to prepare the participating students and give them skills to work towards a better world was something I admired a lot. Sharing the concepts of peace education, understanding conflict through various lenses and discussing various approaches to conflicts equipped the students with tools and techniques to face the changing world. They got a glimpse of what a YES student experiences during their year-long exchange program in a week-long time. It was great to hear from the students that, through the exchange, they developed better communication skills, started to value empathy, learned to be critical thinkers and above all started looking at the world with a different perspective. I'm thankful to be part of the domestic exchange. I realized that we have a lot to share and teach, and it is our responsibility. We need to reach out to each and every individual and teach them about the concepts of global citizenship and help them realize their need and importance in bringing change in this world."
Thank you to DLF School for hosting the students; Dr. Mirgnaini, Executive Director and Mrs. Seema Jerath, Principal, for their continuous support. We’re thankful to AFS India and all the educators who worked extensively to make this program a success. Much appreciation to Ms. Syed Sumaira (DPS Srinagar) and Ms. Swagata Ganguly for their time and contribution to this program, and of course many thanks to the US State Department and the YES program.