YES Programs



From Dreams to Reality: Reflections from the BUBW Conference

Group Photo at BUBW YES Student
Redon Shaking Hands with Alice Nde YES student

By Redon Istogu (YES 2023-2024, Kosovo, placed by YFU in Okemos, MI)

When I first came across Better Understanding for a Better World Conference, I decided to immediately apply because I was fascinated to its mission of fostering multicultural harmony and global cooperation. Coming from a Muslim majority country which is known for having a rich history of multicultural and interfaith harmony, I felt obligated to represent Kosovo the best way I could. I initially anticipated this conference to be about inter-faith religions and world peace, but soon I realized it was about fostering multicultural harmony and making the world a better place! Better Understanding for a Better World, a very fitting name for an amazing conference. BUBW is more than a conference; it is a global movement that seeks to solve global issues and coming together so we can leave the world a better place than when we found it. Now looking back at the conference, I feel much more educated about different perspectives from different countries and cultures and how proud I am coming from a country that deeply values and respects multicultural and interfaith harmony.

BUBW students posing in Baltimore Harbor YES students

BUBW is ran by CECF – Civilizations Exchange & Coordinator Foundation which was founded by Imam Bashar. He told us that this idea of bringing exchange students together from different cultures, backgrounds and religions came to him when he had a dream. He decided to pursue that dream by coming to the United States, the land of opportunities. With a lot of dedication and hard work he made his dream come true and inspired us to do the same thing in our countries when we go back.

The first video that we watched on our conference was about the universe and how small our planet is compared to other stars in our galaxy. Yet we can all have a big impact on making a difference in our communities. This video reminded me and my fellow exchange students from all over the world, that it is up to us if we want to do good, spread kindness and have a positive impact on other people’s lives.

Redon Shaking Hands with Catholic Priest YES Student

On the next day, visiting a church, a synagogue, and a mosque, and hearing a priest, a rabbi, and an imam advocate for peace was inspiring to say the least. Kind people and everyone smiling and asking questions are just some of the views you could see everywhere on this blessed day. It was an honor for me to give the lady from the synagogue, the rabbi, a certificate of appreciation in the name of BUBW and the exchange students, for welcoming us, giving us a speech and answering all of our questions.

A story that I will forever keep close to my heart happened on the last day of the conference. Mrs. Alice Wairimu Nderitu, a representative for the United Nations which is a Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, was invited to make a speech and to make an announcement for a global movement. She advocated that religions should never be used as excuses for genocide and emphasizing the importance of unity and communication. Ms. Alice looked around the conference room and saw not just individuals, but leader and ambassadors of the future united in a common cause for peace. She said that she would like to keep up with all of progress in the future and that she will continue her efforts to stand as a beacon of hope. The students decided to welcome her by standing on the sides of the hallway and holding their flags to create these two colorful walls made up from flags from all over the world. In that moment I realized that I had forgotten my country’s flag, Kosovo. Disappointed like that, I decided to ask Imam Bashar if he had a solution to my problem. His response to my dilemma I felt like it reflected upon the true spirit of the conference. With genuine kindness and warmth, he told me that he would find a solution. He told his son Ismail; to accompany me to the hotel so I could take my flag, ensuring that I would not miss out on this opportunity and be left out from the other exchange students. Accompanied by a volunteer from the conference, we quickly made our way to the hotel, where my flag awaited. This act of generosity and selflessness will forever be etched in my memory, a testament to the power of compassion and solidarity that transcends borders and differences. Any flag in the world it’s just a piece of fabric, but to me my country’s flag represents all the culture and values that I cherish with me in my exchange year and my whole life basically!

Redon shaking hands with Imam YES Student

Playing football between the Memorial Building and the Congress, proudly taking pictures with our flags every place we could and spreading my culture by constantly asking people to do the eagle hand gesture, I came to a conclusion that with dialogue and communication we can solve any issue around the world. (Including that of forgetting your flag at the hotel!)

Redon posing with a Rabbi YES student

I wanted to thank the Department of State and the American People for funding amazing programs such as YES and supporting global movements such as the BUBW Conference. I also wanted to express my gratitude to the Under-Secretary of the United Nations, Mrs. Alice Wairimu Nde for joining our cause and for greatly inspiring me to work hard for my country. Last but not least, I wanted to thank Imam Bashar for inspiring many generations to make the world a better place and to keep fighting for what it’s right.

This conference has changed my life and has inspired me to be a better person. I learned how to be a good leader in my community, how to be a better public speaker and most importantly to never give up on our dreams. When I go back home, I will be committed to promoting interfaith dialogue and collaboration back in Kosovo, inspired by the impactful discussions and friendships that I made at the conference.