by Ainie Tabua (YES 2016-2017, Philippines, placed by PAX in Appleton, WI)
After my YES exchange year, I took every opportunity that I knew would help my interpersonal skills, enhance my capability to lead, and give me a wider perspective on the world. In March 2023, I am grateful that I participated, along with 12 other YES alumni from Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Turkey, Egypt, India, Kenya, Mozambique, Ghana, South Africa and the United States, in the YES alumni Changemakers workshop. The workshop aims to provide YES alumni with change-making skills and tools they can apply to a concrete action in their community.
The workshop guided me through the journey of being a changemaker and enhanced my skills to more effectively extend the impact of my experience to my home community. As someone who has been actively involved in community organizations implementing impactful project ideas, this workshop even helped me deepen my understanding on why I should continue what I have started — to make a difference and serve my community. The workshop provided us with knowledge but was also full of fun and creative activities that helped build connections among all of us. Prior to the workshop, we were given changemaker -themed video, reading, and writing activities. The “I am Poem” was one of my favorite pre-workshop activities. It gave us a creative way to engage in self-reflection.
The journey of a changemaker will never be easy but it is worth achieving. Brian from Kenya, one of our alumni trainers, discussed the road to being a changemaker. It is a fact that there are challenges to success. There are times things don’t go as planned, but no matter how bumpy the road will be, with strong commitment and passion, success is possible. Through the community mapping session, I also learned the importance of knowing the community before we start a project --what are the problems and needs, and what are the resources available. This activity led me to recognize the individual human resources, stakeholders, and partners, and helped me discover the strengths and assets within my community. This then became my basis in drafting my action plan. The workshop also highlighted for me that, in planning a project, there should be a connection/story to tell.
I can still vividly recall when we were asked during the workshop what passion means to us. I was the first one to answer and loudly said, “something that you love/are interested in doing,” which is correct, but I also learned that you can find passion in something that bothers you. We watched a TEDtalk by Bangladesh YES alumna and previous Changemaker workshop participant Shomy Hasan Chowdhury in which she described how, after losing her mother to an easily preventable illness, she devoted her life's work to help ensure everyone can access clean water and sanitation.
We were also enlightened and inspired by the alumni allies, Leah YES '10 from Kenya, Syazani YES '12 from Malaysia, and Yanti YES '10 from Indonesia, as they shared their changemaker stories, passion, and the impactful and sustainable projects they founded. They also were a big help in mentoring us through their great feedback on our action plans and providing tips based on their expertise and best practices. The AFS YES staff and volunteers, Nancy, Bob and Mary Ann, made the workshop fruitful through facilitating lively discussions and making sure that we were on the right track on our changemaker journey.
I also really enjoyed the day we spent learning digital storytelling skills. Wendy and Austin did a really great job on providing tips on how we can come up with a great storyline. Just like pitching a project idea, in creating a digital story it is also important to establish a connection to the audience to make it interesting and encourage people to get involved. We were given a chance to create a one-minute video pitching our project idea. It’s so interesting to hear all the stories from my fellow alumni and learn how everyone has a unique idea of how they will approach issues in their community.
In conclusion, I can say that this workshop was such a great opportunity not just for me but for all alumni aspiring to be a changemaker. Everyone can be a changemaker if they are willing, committed, and passionate to make a change. And this is what I can say to my fellow changemakers – nothing is easy but taking small steps is an improvement. Continue exploring your skills and capabilities, continue being a role model, continue asking your whys and answering them through time, and continue building yourself for the betterment of your community.