By Alieu J. Pusah (YES 2017-2018, Liberia, placed by AFS in Chicago, IL)
At times I feel like this road is leading me to the dream that I had seven years ago.
Seven years ago, I wrote in my YES Host Family Letter that in the future, I would like to understand the complexity of–and help in the protection and preservation of–our mother Earth. Seven years ago today, I am sharing a story that highlights the dream that I had, but with little hope of actually achieving it. That little hope was given a life-changing affirmation by my participation on the YES program, wherein the potential for achieving such a goal was set to a start.
As a finalist on the YES program, I was placed by AFS-USA in Chicago, Illinois, and hosted the best host dad, Roger. My host dad's support of my dream was extraordinary. He welcomed me into his home and we had one of the best “father and son” relationships. My year in Chicago was truly phenomenal: my liaison (Aunty Susan), my host school (Von Steuben), and my friends all taught me the valuable lesson of community service, and they contributed so much more to what I have become.
My experience on the YES program changed my perspectives about community; I realized that it’s not only meant to care and shelter us, but we, too, have the shared responsibility in ensuring its sustainability for the future generations.
After returning to my home country of Liberia, I completed my last year of high school. Coming back home from the YES program, there is always high anxiety and the pursuit of initiatives that will result in impactful change within one’s community. I had always wished to collaborate or start an initiative that would directly focus on environmental education and action taking. I got connected with Kehkashan Basu, the Founder-President of the Green Hope Foundation, at the KidsRights Changemakers, “Connecting with Changemakers'' event during the Covid-19 pandemic. Afterwards, I sent a series of concept notes to request a bigger platform to widen my work as an emerging environmentalist and actualize my dreams.
Green Hope Foundation is a ECOSOC accredited youth-led nonprofit organization that operates in twenty-eight countries. At Green Hope Foundation, grassroots actions are combined with advocacy at the highest levels of policy making to create a just, equatable, peaceful, and nuclear-weapons-free world. I was accepted as a Country Director to initiate and run the activities of the Foundation in Liberia three years ago, and in that time we have undertaken several educational workshops, established environmental clubs, powered the community through our Community Solar Energy Program, and restored hundreds of mangroves. We have also carried out several clean-ups, launched the Green Hope Computer Literacy Program and the Children for Earth Through Arts program, and celebrated several international observance days by implementing projects committed to the stewardship of mother nature. World Wetlands Day was one of the days where we turned our words into ground-level actions.
During Liberia’s fourteen years of civil unrest, there was severe destruction of infrastructure and systems, and those that fled their homes in fear sought new places to live. Urbanization is an after-crisis problem that Liberia faces, and as a result, many people occupy areas that are considered “protected areas.” The wetlands, like any other ecologically significant area, are no exception to this new normal, and the integrity of such a vital ecosystem is being undermined and disrespected with the encroachment for human settlement as a site for waste disposal, a source for firewood, and many other harmful activities.
From our interactions with wetland community residents, we understand that many of these activities are the result of residents' lack of understanding about the ecological importance of the wetlands in maintaining ecological balance and how essential they are to climate change mitigation and adaptation. Therefore, the Green Hope Foundation designed the Mangrove Restoration and Community Education program to educate and restore such an important habitat that’s been gradually degrading. On World Wetlands Day, the Foundation worked with over thirty young volunteers along the Mesurado Wetlands to carry out awareness about the importance of protecting and preserving the area, and restored hundreds of mangrove species.
The International Wetland Days Mangrove Restoration and Community Education program, as well as all the other activities that we have carried out for Green Hope Foundation and the YES Alumni Grants programs, have initiated behavior change and positively impacted my community. People who have volunteered with my activities described them as, “eye openers” and the “right way for community engagement and contributions.” All of the milestone ground-level actions taken so far have shown our collective commitment to preserving the environment so that future generations will not have to live in fear.
Over the years I have worked with many other YES alumni within my community to design and implement community service projects that aimed at creating change. I have also served my alumni association in several leadership roles, and I currently serve as the vice president for the YES Alumni Association-Liberia. In these capacities, I have always worked with alumni from various professions and backgrounds, and developed program-based associations where alumni could work together and solve societal problems that are of importance to them. My participation in the Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange And Study (YES) program motivated and inspired me to be a global changemaker and taught me that, as global citizens, we are responsible for instigating change within our community and the world at large. This global responsibility can be executed where the YES alumni community fosters networking and collaboration.