By Elvana Qeli (YES 2011–2012, Albania, hosted by World Link in Plains, TX)
Since I was a child, my mother taught me the first lessons about giving back to my community through volunteering. However upon my participation in the YES program, I learned how to take initiative for such actions, invite more people to join me, and be courageous in dealing with all the challenges that can arise during community service. The more I grow, the more I realize the importance of my exchange year; it has greatly affected the choices I have made and the path I have taken in life. The experiences I had through YES led me to become interested in helping my community at home.
Since my exchange program, I have gone on to graduate from the University of Tirana with a major in Finance and Accounting and I am on my way to becoming a certified accountant. For the past year, I have worked as part of the Finance and Procurement section at the European Institute of Innovation and Technology in Budapest, Hungary. In June and July 2019, I participated in the Global Village for Leaders in Business, which took place at Lehigh University, Iacocca Institute in Pennsylvania. Global Village is a five weeks program for young entrepreneurs and leaders. The program contains classes, projects, and networking events for young leaders from all over the world to connect with one another. I am grateful to have participated in the program this summer and have connected with other YES and FLEX alumni as well as people who share an interest in the business world and leadership skills. As part of the program, we had the opportunity to visit the United Nations Headquarters, the World Bank, and the United States Department of State in Washington D.C. The visit to the American Councils and the Department of State was a great opportunity for me to return to the place where my journey started eight years ago and to think about how much my exchange year has influenced my journey so far.
As an alumna of the YES program, I have developed a deep interest in giving back to my community. My exchange program made me realize the concrete steps we can take to positively impact our communities. Therefore, in my home community in Albania, I have participated in many projects such as community clean up actions, raising donations, activities at orphanages or elderly homes. Moreover, I have participated in activities whose main focus was raising awareness regarding different issues in our society and engaging the broader community to become more active in dealing with these issues.
One of the largest projects I coordinated was a clean up action in eight of the largest cities in Albania; but I didn’t do this alone, I involved middle school students and helped them channel their passion for the environment. We gathered YES alumni volunteers as well as students from middle schools in the specific city that the activity took place in. After cleaning up the most problematic areas, we discussed pollution issues in the city and across the country. In each of the cleanup actions, we had participation ranging from 50-150 students. We did this project for eight months! The feedback received from the students, teachers, and also the communities was the best reward for our work.
From the start of my alumni involvement in 2012, I have seen a huge impact and improvement in our communities. More and more people are interested in volunteering and contributing to or participating in our activities. This goes to show that with the right passion and tools, we can engage our local communities to have a sustainable positive impact.
I am grateful for the very good Alumni Organization in Albania through which I have met many supportive and inspiring people. They motivate each other to give their best and the cooperation between alumni has led to projects which have had a huge impact through their actions and consciousness-raising. I want to continue being involved in these activities and to encourage more people to work towards a better world for all of us.