By Brian Bright (YES 2011-2012, Kenya, hosted by PAX in Cheboygan, MI)
Since becoming a YES alumnus in 2012, I have had the most humbling opportunity to join YES Alumni worldwide in our common goal of giving back to society and making this world a better place. My love and inspiration for giving back began in Cheboygan, MI. While on exchange, I was able to clock in 100+ hours of community service and giving back became something that I really enjoyed doing. I was blessed enough to be hosted in a community that showed me nothing but love. I felt accepted and welcomed from the first day to the last. This certainly got me thinking about how all these people just opened their arms and homes to this stranger from far away Kenya and made him feel so at home. I felt the urge to show this much love to the people in my community as well. To think that I paid nothing to enjoy a whole year abroad where I got to learn so much definitely made me more grateful than I had ever been before. It made me want to give back to my community, especially those who may never have the chance to experience all that I did.
My time as a YES alumnus began in Mombasa, Kenya. The YES alumni in Mombasa had a running project called the Muoroto Children Support Program, which was a mentoring project for kids living in the Muoroto slums of Mombasa. I joined the project and helped plan for the official launch in November 2014. Shortly after the launch, I moved to Nairobi, Kenya for college (I will start my senior year at the Kenyatta University School of Law this September). In Nairobi, I joined other YES alumni in their service projects, some of which I spearheaded or helped to organize. These projects include cleaning up underserved communities, collecting donations for hospitals, organizing community iftar drives, and volunteering time in orphanages.
My favorite project took place last year. My two best friends Anne Ndegwa (YES 2010-2011, hosted by PAX in Tuscaloosa, AL) and Ibrahim Mohamed (YES 2009-2010, hosted by PAX in Nashua, NH) and I wrote a proposal for a Water Harvesting Project at a rescue and rehabilitation center for homeless boys in Ngong, which is just outside Nairobi. We were awarded a YES Alumni Grant and we successfully implemented the project towards the end of the year. We designed this project because the rescue center is home to just shy of 100 kids and one of the major problems they faced was lack of water. Thinking of all health hazards that could possibly arise from lack of water in such a facility, we decided that providing them with clean water was a top priority. Our grant covered the cost of a mega tank, gutters and their installation and other required constructions to support the system. The center is located in an area that receives rainfall annually so it was viable. In the dry season, they are going to buy water in bulk from the city county, fill the tank and then sell it to the surrounding community for a profit. This will generate an income, which will assist in paying the center’s bills such as electricity, school fees, and any required school supplies. This project taught me a great deal about proposal writing, budget preparations, dealing with laborers and other service providers, teamwork, communication, and so many other things. Anne, Ibrahim, and myself are incredibly grateful to have been awarded this grant.
Besides the projects I work on, I am active with AFS and YES alumni capacity building and administrative work. With my legal background, I wrote the Kenya YES Alumni Association's constitution, which was passed by a majority of the YES Alumni. I am actively involved in selection and recruitment of new YES students every year. I participate in interviews and all subsequent orientations. I am currently the AFS Kenya intern in charge of coordinating the YES 15th Anniversary celebrations, which include a one week long domestic exchange program. I am working in collaboration with the office to create content for the week, plan the logistics, and promote it on social media. This has been an honor for me, as well as a huge learning experience. I am looking forward to successful celebrations. I’m motivated to do work for AFS and YES because there were people who put equal measures (or more) of effort to ensure that I had a wonderful exchange year and I am forever indebted. It's always my goal that all YES students are adequately prepared for the program like I was, and that they have a wonderful year like mine, or even better.
What inspires me most is the joy and smiles I see in the face of those I interact with. Every time I participate in a project and I see my people smile or happy as a result of what I've done, my heart is filled with joy and motivation to do it over and over again. Sadly, the world has become a place filled with so much negativity, injustices and evil. Most people have lost hope and I feel it is my responsibility to rejuvenate this hope to those who have lost it so that they can have faith in humanity again. This is by trying to spread more love and peace and cheer to everyone I interact with and always help in any small way I can.