Mohammad Shadab (YES 2019-20, India, placed by CIEE in Belmont, ME) has recently been the recipient of several awards and opportunities. He received the highest civilian award given by the Government of India — Bal Shakti Puraskar (National Child Award), for his academic achievement. The award is given to approximately 30 youth each year from across India who demonstrate exceptional abilities and outstanding achievements in the fields of innovation, sports, arts and culture, social service, scholastic, and bravery. As part of the award ceremony, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke directly to the recipients. During Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry’s recent visit to India, Mohammad had the opportunity to ask Special Presidential Envoy Kerry a question regarding the Paris Agreement. Mohammad was also selected by the Asia and India Book of Records for his many hours of volunteer service.
Below, Mohammad reflects on how the YES program inspired him to dream big and to help others through community service:
Always keep your soul and mind positive and focus on the positive things that nature and the world are offering you. This is what I learned throughout my exchange year. I am Mohd Shadab, a grade 11 student from the Aligarh Muslim University. The end of a cultural exchange program is really only the beginning of a lifetime of opportunities, making change, and creating impact.
As a part of my Global Youth Service Day (GYSD) project, I decided to focus on humanitarian efforts. India is currently facing the second wave of COVID-19 and conditions are beyond heartbreaking. The numbers of deaths due to COVID are increasing day by day. The numbers are turning into names — names of our family members and loved ones. As future leaders, it is our duty to tackle this situation and do something to improve the lives of others, so I helped with sanitation in my community and distributed free oxygen cylinders, hand sanitizers, masks, food, medications, and other necessities. I always accept challenges and this epidemic is one of the biggest challenges I have ever faced.
Going to a country with a culture entirely different from ours was challenging but my host family never made me feel excluded or homesick, and their house felt like home. Experiences aren’t worth anything if you don’t come out of your comfort zone, because every journey that you undertake contributes to the making of you. When I was a YES exchange student in America, every single person I met taught me something new and different. Connecting with another family is something that stays with you forever. My exchange year helped me to develop better leadership skills by getting involved in my host community. Volunteering for more than 200 hours really made me a more responsible person and helped me to understand different perspectives. It made me realize that I really want to start volunteering in my home community.
As an exchange student, I believe that it’s our goal to promote global peace and celebrate cultural differences. Exchange programs support these goals. These programs promote unity, peace, and love. They help us to connect our lives with others, to find something new within ourselves, and to realize that we are all one. The YES program provides youth with an immense amount of exposure and confidence at an age when you are accepting of new learnings and finding your place in the world. It makes you more tolerant about other cultures and lifestyles. One becomes a person who understands the value of peace and unity across the globe. I sincerely thank YES, the State Department, AFS, and CIEE for playing such an important role in providing a platform to harness my intercultural understanding and leadership skills, and strengthening me from inside. My message for Indian youth is to fly and explore the world around you.