By Zeenat Ameena (YES 2009-2010, Ghana, hosted by CIEE in Marysville, WA)
I am Zeenat Ameena, a YES alumna who discovered the true meaning of volunteerism and its potential to effect positive social change during my exchange year in Marysville, Washington. Since returning home to Ghana, I have promoted volunteerism to enhance social inclusion for marginalized people in communities across my country. My 2018 YES Alumni Grant project, N’Ting Hands-On, provided practical training and career guidance for over 100 deaf and hard of hearing students from the Senior High Technical School for the Deaf (SHTD) in Mampong Akwapim in the eastern region of Ghana. Graduates of SHTD study the same curriculum and take the same exams as their non-deaf counterparts, yet they are often overlooked by potential employers due to the communication gap. Therefore, an opportunity for integration is missed, leaving SHTD graduates further isolated from their communities. This project served as a confidence builder for the SHTD students completing their final year of high school and showed them they could be just as successful as their non-deaf counterparts.
In this program, students went to selected organizations where they were given tours and the opportunity to work there for a day. The organizations we partnered with for this program ranged from factories producing footballs to restaurants to art institutes focused on conservation and recycling. The students excelled at each short job opportunity, and some organizations even made commitments to provide internships after graduation. The culmination of the project was a one-day seminar on personal capacity building, CV writing, and job-hunting skills for over 100 students at the school.
The students were very pleased with the program as evidenced by the overwhelmingly positive responses to questionnaires given to evaluate the effectiveness of the project. We hope that over the long term, we will be able to extend the scope of the project to offer the experience to more students and institutions, thereby enhancing social inclusion within this marginalized community.
I have personally witnessed the extent of marginalization of the deaf and hard of hearing and the barriers to integration. I have also come to realize how much society stands to lose when sections of it are marginalized.
My project team, consisting of YES Alumni, fellow students from the University of Ghana, and other individuals who just wanted to help, was immensely supportive and consistently went above and beyond. I am truly grateful and proud of them. I would like to thank the organizations that offered the students these opportunities: Riohs Originate Fashion School, Alive and Kicking International, The University of Ghana Guest Centre, and The Wheel Story House. I would also like to thank AFS/IEP Ghana and the headmaster and staff of SHTD for their support, overall enthusiasm, and commitment to the project. Without them, little could have been achieved. We would also like to extend our immense gratitude to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the YES program, and American Councils for International Education for sponsoring and implementing the YES Alumni Grants program.