Photo: Safaa and other YES students in front of the White House during the very year of the YES program.
The 15th anniversary year of YES has come to a close, and we celebrated by highlighting a program country on social media every week throughout 2018. Today, learn about our final program country highlight, the West Bank, where many amazing young people have been impacted by YES.
There are hundreds of stories about how YES students and alumni from the West Bank have made a difference. Here are two of those stories from YES alumnae from the first two cohorts.
Safaa Halahla (YES 2003 – 2004)
One of the first two YES students from the West Bank, Safaa has set the first steps to the path of the YES journey for many generations to come. Safaa had a successful academic journey starting with her YES year in Virginia, then to studying Computer System Engineering at Berzeit University back home in Palestine, then she recently also finished her MSc in Media, Communication and Development from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) as part of the Chevening scholarship. Safaa landed an internship at Daimler AG (Mercedes-Benz) in Stuttgart Germany as part of the Arab-European Internship Exchange Program in 2008.
Safaa has maintained very close contacts with the YES community. She even worked for a year at a USAID project with AMIDEAST and then joined the Qattan Foundation which works towards the development of education and culture in Palestine and the Arab world. YES opened many opportunities for her, one of which was the Global Village for Future Leaders of Business and Industry at Lehigh University in the US in 2012. Safaa got a partial scholarship to attend from the US consulate for being a YES alum. Safaa says the YES program very clearly had a positive effect on her life and her community.
Maha Thaher (YES 2004 – 2005)
Maha is one of the most active senior YES alumni from the West Bank. Although she joined the program more than 12 years ago, she still is a corner stone of the alumni network. "I am a proud member of the YES alumni network and I see it as an opportunity for me to give back to my community and to the YES community as well through the different activities that the network organizes," Maha says.
After she graduated from Birzeit University with an undergraduate degree in English Literature and Translation, Maha received the Fulbright Foreign Student Scholarship which led her to a Master's in Conflict Resolution at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is extremely proud to be a part of both the YES and the Fulbright alumni networks. She says that they are "great associations to belong to. They offer true connections to extraordinary leaders in so many countries and in various walks of life. They allow us to learn about each other's work, communities and cultures, and allow us to connect with global opportunities and allow for cross community cooperation." During her Bachelor’s studies, Maha also spent a year in Colorado through the PEACE scholar program in 2009-2010.
Photos: Maha visited a Disney theme park in the US while on the YES program in 2004 - 2005; Maha recently completed a Master's degree
Maha is currently taking very active roles in her community through her work at the organization Taawon for Conflict Resolution as Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, mainly working on USAID funded project in social accountability. The project aims to institutionalize social accountability over municipalities and improve the level and quality of citizen participation. Maha participates in planning the programs directly related to building the community's resilience and capacities in methods of conflict resolution. On the side, Maha also provides interfaith harmony workshops.
Maha contributes a lot of the great success that she is currently at to her beginnings as a YES student. “I consider my experience with the YES program to be a major step that opened many opportunities for me to grow personally, academically, culturally, and professionally,” Maha says. She is also happy with the effect of the YES program on the Palestinian community as it allows the students to gain various academic and cultural experiences that will enrich their mind and expand their future options. She adds, "It allows the students to be true ambassadors of the Palestinian culture in the US and return to be ambassadors for their experience.”