By Ajla Omerbasic (YES 2010-2011, Bosnia and Herzegovina, hosted by PAX in Searcy, AR)
It has been nine years since I came back from the YES exchange program, which highly influenced and shaped me as a person. I have grown to see the world from a wider perspective and therefore, after so many years, I decided to share this perspective with the children and adults in my community more actively. Specifically, I decided to bring a little bit of the joy and excitement of Halloween to my community. I celebrated Halloween for the first time when I was in the U.S.
I organized this event at the American Corner in Sarajevo on October 30. Despite the rainy weather, approximately 40 children attended the event - most of them preschool and primary school students. YES Abroad students and fellow alumna Merima Muhic (YES 2015-2016, hosted by ACES in Apex, NC) helped lead the activities, which aimed to teach participants about this holiday and American Culture in general. We had stations with various activities so that participants could pick and choose what they wanted to do.
At one station, we had pumpkin painting with the YES Abroad students - the closest we could get to pumpkin carving, considering the ages of our participants. The children were so excited for this! I explained to the children that the YES Abroad students are from the U.S. but learning Bosnian, and that communication was welcome in both languages.
At another station, Merima did face painting, listening carefully for the requests of the children. One of the YES Abroad students helped Merima by brainstorming ideas with the children.
At the third activity station was a Halloween flashcards game, where the children waiting their turn for pumpkin coloring or face painting spent their time with me. I made laminated Halloween-themed flashcards and used them to encourage the children to learn some new words. This was the loudest activity, as the children would shout out the names of the objects on the flashcards in English. Once they were all familiar with the words, we played a fun game that involved mixing and matching the cards.
We also had a photo station where the kids, many of whom had come in costume, could take pictures and share the experience further into the community.
Towards the end of the event, we had one child who was crying as she was not able to find her pumpkin. Her mother tried to calm her down, but she was so proud of her art piece. Another child came from a different station with her own pumpkin, approached the crying child, and told her: “You can have my pumpkin if you would like.” The girl who had been crying accepted the gift and took it home with her. That small gesture meant so much. It was an important reminder not to underestimate the power of a smile, of being tolerant, and of sharing a celebration like Halloween together.
I think that the atmosphere of the American Halloween experience was transferred successfully. We managed to create an event that was educational and fun for the youngest members of our community. I also think that this was an important event, as it showed children how to be accepting of each other and to understand that respecting each other can go a long way.
I would like to thank the United States Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for giving me the opportunity to experience life in the U.S. and to share those experiences in my community so many years later. I would also like to thank the American Corner staff and YES Abroad students for their help in making this a successful event.