By Anthony Mulanzia (YES 2012-13, Kenya, hosted with AFS in Hebron, Indiana)
Before going on the YES exchange program, my perceptions of the US were very vague. But upon being selected, I was overwhelmed by curiosity. Being brought up in an orphanage amongst more than 80 brothers made this exchange experience even more intriguing. I had never in my entire life imagined myself in a regular family set-up, in the presence of a caring mother, a hardworking dad and siblings. In the first 2 months, I was too shy to talk at the dinner table and family gatherings. This, to me, was all OK but to my family it was a new challenge of nurturing me as their own not just as an exchange student. It’s from there that I transformed my attitude.
I became more open to others and new ideas as well as skills. I was part of the school theater club and music club and was awarded most improved, outstanding leadership and most active. I volunteered to assist with students with disabilities at my host school and that transformed my perception about the society back home. I took that volunteerism and turned it into a better thing: community service. Upon returning home, I launched a sanitation and water community project for my home school. With the help of the YES grants, other YES alumni, AFS Kenya volunteers, parents, students, teachers and residents, the facility to date has improved the health of the students and residents surrounding the school community. Kenya YES alumni have implemented several other service projects such as street clean-ups for Global Youth Service Day and visits to orphanages.
I will forever be indebted to this exposure that I received; the only debt repayment towards this is continued engagement in community volunteering, mentorship, and project development for the greater good of the society in Kenya and all over the world.
The alumni changemaker workshop I attended last month was very impactful for project development. The pitching sessions enhanced my skills for presenting my ideas to potential sponsors as well as beneficiaries. I also learned of the importance of being able to respond specifically to the needs of the community in a more realistic and inclusive way. When developing a local project, the chances of success and sustainability are improved when the beneficiary community is involved and have their hearts and minds invested, so it ceases being a personal project and becomes a community idea that engages the community. It’s in that regard that I’ve been able to get funding for my next project; empowering women with income-generating skills to alleviate poverty.
My other takeaway from the workshop was being consistent on the goals and objectives I intend to achieve, and how action plans can help in this regard. It has enabled me to realize how much time I’ve been wasting on one/two action plans at the expense of other plans and the overall project. This has improved how I plan my project time-frame.
Thanks to the State Department, YES and AFS Kenya for yet another golden opportunity to learn.