By Asja Alispahic (YES 2017-2018, Bosnia and Herzegovina, hosted by AFS in Warren, NJ)
During my YES year, I was hosted by a beautiful Pakistani family in New Jersey, where I went to one of the best private schools on the east coast – The Pingry School. It was a life-changing experience. As I made connections between my Pakistani host family, my Bosnian heritage and traditions, and the American world I was immersed in, I truly felt like a part of a big global community. At my host school, I got to know many bright students who, from a young age, cared greatly about their education and future careers. They inspired me to start looking ahead at my own future as well as to analyze youth development, learning, and opportunities in my home community. My friends here in Bosnia are all hardworking students, which led me to conclude that it doesn’t all come down to academics and grades. It is as equally important to improve ourselves. We must develop our abilities, skills, passions, and hobbies in addition to thriving academically. Developing as a person through volunteering, leadership, and teamwork is just as important and closely connected to one’s academic success. Looking at the big picture, I realized that experience and practical knowledge is what my peers in Bosnia and Herzegovina needed more of.
In most Bosnian-Herzegovinian high schools, students are not familiar with the abundance of possibilities to improve themselves and their communities because it is rarely discussed. It is seldom mentioned that leadership skills, the ability to work in teams, and volunteering is crucial for their lives in and out of the classroom. This disconnect between skill sets is one of the reasons why almost 60% of youth ages 15 to 30 in Bosnia and Herzegovina are unemployed. There are likely many underlying causes to this startlingly high percentage, but some of the causes I identified and decided to focus on is the lack of interest among youth for volunteering and self-improvement. That’s why I decided to apply for a YES Alumni Grant to organize and implement the TALL (Teamwork. Activism. Leadership. Learning) Workshop.
From October 23 to 26, 2019, the TALL Workshop was held in Ilidza, Sarajevo. There were 14 participants from 14 different schools, who came together from different parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The participants all had very different interests, but one thing tied them all together – their desire to learn and improve. There was incredible interest in the workshop – more than 225 students applied! Our project team partnered with the Institute for Youth Development (KULT), and their trainers led most sessions. Workshop participants took part in sessions on professional skills, such as writing resumes, public speaking, interviewing, and networking, which was intended to help participants throughout their high school year, university, and in the business world when looking for a job. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s YES Alumni Coordinator Merima Muhic (YES ‘16) also led sessions on active listening and project implementation in participants’ communities. The trainers made this workshop very engaging thanks to tons of fun energizers and teambuilding activities that connected participants. Another activity that cemented our group bond was a visit to downtown Sarajevo and a tram ride up Trebevic mountain, where you can look out over all of Sarajevo.
I am exceedingly proud of the positive outcome of this workshop. In a post-workshop survey, 100% of participants reported they enjoyed the workshop, learned new things, felt they improved their skills, and, most importantly, felt ready and motivated to act on their goals. One participant said that the workshop was the best nonformal education experience she ever had. Another participant said that she discovered her potential to be a great team member and leader, skills she felt were crucial to her future success. All participants committed to implementing projects or similar workshops in their communities and schools. From the optimism and energy the participants displayed throughout the workshop, I’m confident these 14 students will go on to educate and motivate hundreds of other young people, making a huge lasting impact. They promised to send pictures of their projects that we would love to share with the YES community in the future!
I count this event as a major success – for me, the project team and trainers, and all our participants. A big “thank you” goes to the U.S. Department of State, for connecting people around the globe and making projects like this possible. My exchange year is the reason why I am inspired and motivated to change my community for the better, so I’m very thankful to the YES program and this amazing opportunity. Many thanks also go to the educators and staff of the Institute of Youth Development (KULT) and, of course, our Alumni Coordinator Merima Muhic.
Take a video tour of the TALL workshop here: http://bit.ly/2oEr8er.