By Kamal Ud Din (YES 2011-2012, Pakistan, hosted by ACES in Sioux Falls, SD)
The YES program is the best thing that ever happened to me. It expanded my perspective of the world through my interactions with people from all over the globe. I experienced the culture of United States firsthand, erasing many misconceptions and stereotypes I carried. YES also equipped me with leadership and communication skills. But the most important thing I learned during my YES year was to understand and respect people regardless of their ethnic background, country, or religion. We all are humans, and we all want to be happy and peaceful.
Another lasting effect of the YES program was that I remained active in community service projects after returning to Pakistan. In the last six years, I have carried out more than 55 projects. I am from Gilgit, a small city located in the mountainous northern region of Pakistan. It is surrounded by some of the world’s highest mountain peaks and attracts tourists and hikers from around the world. I recently graduated from FAST University in Islamabad with an electrical engineering degree, and I am working with a private firm. The Gilgit-Baltistan region is culturally very rich but underserved. Residents of the area face issues such as lack of accessibility to up-to-date information, educational facilities, and professional opportunities. Students from this area are largely uninformed about career options after high school. In order to educate students of the region about career opportunities, my team and I applied for a YES alumni grant to provide Educational Expos focused on career counseling, confidence building, and skill development.
My team and I conducted 13 Educational Expos in Ghizer, Gilgit, and Nagar. The Expos prepared more than 4,000 secondary school students to seek admission to prestigious colleges and universities and apply for scholarships. The Expo team was comprised of university students and career counselors who gave presentations, shared their own experiences of success gained through hard work, and provided one-on-one counseling to students on the various career fields that they can pursue. We also gave the students personality tests to help them identify their strengths and weaknesses.
Additionally, the project team conducted teamwork and confidence-building activities in which students were given the chance to speak before an audience. Team spirit was fostered through group activities which taught the students team management skills. Alumni of a variety of scholarship programs shared their experiences participating in programs including the YES, United World Colleges, Summer Sisters, National Outreach Program, and international scholarships available from the University of Central Asia. The Expos helped students discover their fields of interest and explore what would suit them well.
The project received a positive feedback from school staff and students. A participant named Attiya said, “I was confused about my future career options, but after attending this program, I am now confident about what to choose.”
Our team plans to keep in touch with participants via social media, and to keep teaching staff at the schools up-to-date on scholarship and university opportunities they can share with the students. It has been a wonderful experience to lead a team and carry out such a major project. It has helped to enhance my management and interpersonal skills. The project also developed a tightknit network of about 20 YES alumni and youth leaders from partner organizations who made up the project team.
I am very grateful to our sponsors and partner organizations. This project was possible because of the sponsorship provided by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. I also offer my gratitude to local organizations such as Organization for Educational Change (OEC) and Quaid-e-Azam School and College for providing significant support during the project.