On April 24, 2017, a conference venue in Amman started buzzing with the sounds of a YES alumni reunion. It didn't matter that many of these alumni had never actually met before and were regularly separated by many years, restrictive borders, language barriers, and even violent conflict. The 30 leaders attending the Beyond YES Summit came together as long lost brothers and sisters.
Malek Oueriemmi (YES 2012-2013, Tunisia, hosted by AFS in Solon, OH) explains, "The positive energy just washed away all the stress I had before. I feel so light!"
For the rest of the week, these experienced YES alumni representing nearly every cohort of YES alumni and fifteen YES program countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) will focus that energy on learning with and from one another in order to improve themselves and their home communities. The Beyond YES Summit centers on five themes related to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals: refugee crises; women's empowerment; youth, employment, and millennial living; building civil society and communities; and peacebuilding.
The Summit Leaders will learn about all five themes, and will also get to focus in on the ones that are most relevant to their work and studies. Hassan Al Busai'di (YES 2007-2008, Oman, hosted by Ayusa in Rapid City, SD) shares, "I came for the networking and to learn how to create and apply a strategy on the topic of Youth, Employment, and Millennial Living."
On the first full day of the Summit, the alumni focused on getting to know one another and the general themes. The day started off with an inspiring speech by Tobias Bradford, the Cultural Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Amman. After Mr. Bradford encouraged the Summit Leaders to find their passions and pursue them with gusto, the YES alumni got straight to work by sharing their professional experiences and opinions related to the Summit themes and other issues pressing to the MENA region.
Expertly guided by several senior YES alumni and guest speakers from Search for Common Ground and UNDP, the Summit Leaders will spend the rest of the week digging deeper into the five themes. The final goal is for each alum to prepare detailed project proposals for when they return home.
Siraj Belgasium (YES 2013-2014, Libya, hosted by AYA in Pottsville, PA) reflects, "The first day gathered all the pieces I needed and now it's just the map for a bigger project I need to figure out." Siraj, like many of his peers, is considering ways to connect the MENA region in his project and to tap into cross-border resources to tackle big issues.
If the first 24 hours are any indication, the projects are likely to be infused with a great deal of insight, innovation, and enthusiasm. We can't wait to see what comes next!