By Samman Raza (YES 2016-2017, Pakistan, placed with World Link in Colorado Springs, CO)
I went on the YES program in 2016 and returned to Pakistan in 2017. My exchange was a life-changing experience, it was like a whole life in one single year. I learned and experienced many things, while also discovering new versions of myself. One of the activities that I took up during my exchange year was self-defense. It was this experience that led me to one of my service projects in Pakistan – self-defense classes in every educational institution. And so my project was born.
I am a social activist and I like to work for the less privileged groups in a society, especially for women. While not impossible, it is not always easy to be a woman in a male-ruled society. With the passage of time, there has been a rise in the crime rate against women, particularly in my country, Pakistan, which is why I believe self-defense is so important.
I organized a self-defense academy for girls in Rawalpindi, where there are more than 35 students learning different techniques and ways to overcome different threats. Every weekend, I organize evening classes for students to learn something new about self-defense, including gripping, snatching, sword techniques, etc. Students have now successfully learned many new things and are making their parents proud. All my students have uniforms and are able to use the equipment in the academy. My academy gives students lessons on self-defense techniques because of how important they are for the survival of the girls and women in this society.
My exchange year played a huge role in my self-development. It gave me exposure to new ideas, and I learned many new things and had new experiences. During my exchange year, I was able to learn self-defense techniques from an academy near my host family's house. The biggest lesson that I learned during my time in the United States is that serving the community and humanity—living for others—should be the purpose of life. I did more than 250 hours of community service work and worked on a Global Youth Service Day (GYSD) project, along with many other participants.
As I am a social activist, I also do other projects to benefit society. I have given food packages to more than 200 families during the COVID-19 pandemic, organized libraries in underserved schools, conducted career counseling sessions, implemented planting activities, ran a blood donation camp, and did many other activities. My exchange experience is also helping me in my studies too. I learned during my exchange year that extracurricular activities are as important as school activities. So, I participate in many sports and debate competitions while maintaining my grades.
I gave myself just one month to open the self-defense academy, and I had to work hard to meet my deadline. I searched for the right venue and instructor for the academy. I'm happy to say that ultimately it was a big achievement and I was able to have the opening ceremony at the planned time. The happiest moment for me was when I saw how proud my parents were. All the credit goes to my parents, who always show support and love to my decisions. My mission and vision behind this initiative are to build confidence among the girls of my community. I have now decided to open a new self-defense academy, with the following name: She is a Power!