By Shifa Naaz (YES 2018-2019, India, placed with Aspect in Lakebay, WA)
In September 2017, everything changed when I heard about the U.S. Department of State's Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study program. I was very excited about the new direction my life was going to take. Fast forward to the summer of 2019, when I returned to India after living for ten months in Lakebay, WA. I brought back tons of memories from my exchange. I remember being part of a musical concert that was organized by community members from Lakebay, WA to raise money for the food bank. I felt appreciated by people and I loved the feeling of giving back and doing good. Living in the United States taught me to push my limits and try as many new things as I can.
After I came back from my exchange year, I was driven by motivation and experience. I wanted to make sure no one’s hard work was being left out or not given appreciation. “It’s not too late to make a difference around you and within you” — that’s what I believe in. I joined my fellow YES alumnus, John Mota (YES 2013-2014, India, placed with CIEE in Harrison, MI), on the project “Reached the Unreached” to work with children whose talents are not recognized. The goal of our project was to provide these children with the skills and resources needed to succeed in life.
I was also part of a traffic project, where I got a chance to look at some of the most pressing problems my country is facing and how I can help resolve those issues. I came to know about the accidents, deaths, and injuries that happen every day just because people lack knowledge. Simply not wearing a helmet can lead to the death of 200 lives in one day. Being part of this project made me realize the importance of problem solving in the community and how we as YES alumni play a vital role in bringing change to society.
2020 has given me a virtual cross-cultural exchange experience through the Design Thinking for YES Workshop. In short, this workshop opened up the door for new opportunities to learn from different participants around the world. During the nine-week workshop, I learned about Human-Centered Design, which focuses on keeping people at the center while implementing a project. This mindset encourages me to think critically and find better solutions to the problems in my community.
Through the workshop, I have certainly improved my interpersonal skills and started understanding my community more deeply. The sessions allowed me to think of various aspects of project design and implementation that had never crossed my mind, including positive deviants and the importance of prototyping. All things matter in a community project, including people’s principles, values, where they spend time, energy, and money.
At the end of the workshop, we all came up with our own design thinking project, which we will be implementing in our home community. Mine is about training women in business skills and giving livelihood to the women in my community. My project goal is to help these women utilize their talents and skills to help them make a name for themselves, educate their children, and lead a better life. They will be establishing their own cotton bag companies after being trained by experts. I will be focusing on empowering women and supporting their ideas to change the mindset of the community.
I am so ready to bring positive change to the world!