By Massolian B.M. Fahnbulleh (YES 2011-12, Liberia, placed by AFS-USA in Anchorage, Alaska)
I am grateful to the YES program for teaching me valuable life lessons that impact my life to this day. The biggest lesson I learned on my exchange year was the importance of volunteerism. During the YES program, exchange students are encouraged to do community service and they get a certificate of honor with the president’s signature for reaching a specific number of completed service hours. Through volunteerism, I realized that the best way one can be impactful in their society is by offering or providing services without expecting something in return. This has become my greatest motivation for the projects I have undertaken in Liberia.
Something I am really passionate about is peer education and women empowerment in my country Liberia. Since becoming an alumna of the YES program, I have been engaged with the alumni body in conducting various projects and have also done smaller projects with YES and non-YES groups. With the alumni body, I have conducted community service projects ranging from raising donations for persons with disabilities organizations and orphanages and projects focused on peer education. By forming partnerships with other YES alumni, I have been part of three YES alumni grant teams, one of which I was the point person for. I have also been working with young changemakers from other youth and women’s organizations to provide peer education and women empowerment opportunities for young women and girls.
The various peer education projects that I have been involved in have touched on the themes of why the education of young girls matters, sexual and reproductive health education, and most importantly, women empowerment. These projects ultimately led me to start a project that is closest to my heart: the “Women’s Self Reliance Initiative”. This initiative is focused on the empowerment of young women and girls in order to make them self-dependent. It provides theoretical and practical knowledge of vocational skills for those young women and girls between the ages of 14 and 35. The first phase of this initiative, funded by the U.S. Department of State’s YES program Small Grant funding program, took place from October 2018 to January 2018 and 20 young women and girls directly benefited from this first phase.
The reason I consider this initiative the most important for me is that without empowerment, young people especially women and girls would never have the courage to stand up for their rights. When women are empowered, they can hold on to their conscience and integrity and can stand up against peer pressure also. The second phase of this project is intended to provide young women and girls with the financial backing they need in order to enable them to take care of their education and other financial responsibilities. This phase started on August 24, 2019 with support from eminent people in my community and it's currently ongoing till February 2020. This phase is directly impacting 15 more young women and girls. We intend to do an online fundraiser that will enable us to rent a space so than our beneficiaries can practice their vocational skills while we apply for more grants that will enable us to empower more women and girls in Liberia.
I attribute my passion for community service to the time I spent in the U.S. through the YES program. I got inspired to do service projects when I was part of the “Key Club” in my American high school which was basically about voluntarily rendering services to the community by collecting pennies, used clothes, and a few other items that were donated to orphanages and to homeless people. As a young exchange student from a country full of so many challenges faced by the citizens daily, seeing my fellow young American colleagues committing themselves to providing services to their community left me with no option but to start identifying the problems that my community and country is faced with back home. I realized that I too could be a change agent in my home country and when I returned home, I actively committed myself to organizing and forming part of every other service projects of the YES Alumni Corps of Liberia.
I was also inspired from the one-week Civic Education Workshop (CEW) that I attended in Washington D.C. during my exchange year. I got inspired and motivated when our Alumni mentors shared stories of the different impacts they were making in their home countries after they returned from the exchange program back home. They shared the different kinds of community service projects they were conducting in their home communities. I would like to thank my host family, the Hills, who played a major role in making my exchange year successful by being very supportive and encouraging me to get involved in as well as trying new things. They also provided me with guidance and mentorship in making key decisions during my exchange year and now. I would also like to thank my Women Self Reliance Initiative's team for their efforts and commitment over this period of time.
My advice for future young leaders is to be appreciative of the little as well as the big things people do for you. I am hopeful that young people from all over the world can become change agents in their communities. I am also excited to continue working for the betterment of my community and to empower young girls and women to become self-reliant and independent.