By Ahmed Latif (YES 2004-2005, Egypt, placed by AFS-USA in Milwaukee, WI)
My YES program experience was a turning point in my life. An amazing and caring host family, Beth and Keith Clemence, along with their children, welcomed me to their home and family.
Before I left for the YES program, I intended to join medical school once I returned to Egypt, although this was more my family’s wish than mine. However, after my YES experience, it was very difficult to accept living in someone else’s shoes. I decided to pursue my passion and joined the Merchant Marine academy. I excelled in my studies and was ranked 2nd in my class and first in Celestial Navigation. In 2010, I graduated with honors.
Before my graduation, a world-leading oil and gas transportation company requested a cadet, and I was accepted after a series of interviews. My interviews were mostly about my YES experience rather than my actual sea knowledge. I discovered that the ability to deal with people from different backgrounds and cultures was more important than the knowledge that I acquired. I have been working for that oil and gas company since 2007. In 2020, I decided to take another step in my career, out of my comfort zone, and seek new opportunities.
Since my return to Egypt in 2005, I’ve been engaged in community service—dedicating time and energy whenever possible and hoping to make a difference. My exchange year helped me learn the importance of civic engagement and improved my multitasking and entrepreneurial skills. In 2011, parallel to my studies and work, I co-founded an environmental NGO called Shagara ("tree" in Arabic). Shagara aims to grow trees to protect the environment, enhance food security, and mitigate poverty.
Our first project was "Shagara at School", which was financially supported by the Swiss Embassy in Cairo. The project met three goals:
• To offset emissions and air pollution through installing a rooftop vegetable garden and planting indigenous plants around the school;
• To increase "green" awareness of students, teachers, and school staff by enabling them to plant their own garden;
• To mitigate poverty of the disadvantaged inside the school through selling vegetables and herbs from the school’s garden.
We are proud of the fact that this project has been active and self-sustaining since 2013. Many similar projects were implemented in orphanages and other schools in partnership with many European entities such as the Swedish Embassy, IKEA, and Oriflame. We were able to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Egyptian Ministry of Education. Currently, the Ministry of Education is considering adopting Shagara’s innovative green ideas to integrate them in future schools in Egypt. Watch this video feature by "Egypt Today" to learn more about our project:
I believe that Shagara is my biggest personal achievement and the first step towards achieving my vision: to improve the quality of life on a global level while being environmentally conscious. All of this just wouldn’t be possible without my YES experience through the State Department, my supportive host family, and all the YES and AFS volunteers.
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