by Ameera Allee (YES 2018-2019, South Africa, placed with AYUSA in Tacoma, WA)
To say that we live in a scary and uncertain world would probably be one of the biggest understatements of the year, and perhaps what makes this statement so remarkably profound is the fact that so much of this fear and uncertainty is rooted in a lack of communication. One of the best examples of seeing this miscommunication-induced fear at play is unfortunately evident within the way in which mainstream society portrays and reacts to Islam and Muslims. Islam by its very essence and nature is very peaceful and propagates love and compassion among all, and yet in numerous aspects of society, Islam has become another word for terrorist.
As a young Muslim girl, I am well acquainted with the victimization that can occur from merely wearing a scarf or asking for halal meat, and it is because of these experiences that I am so passionate about the YES program and its values. I believe that the only real solution to solving big global issues, such as Islamophobia, lies within creating a space for learning through discussion. I did this often during my exchange program and continued to do so even after I returned home to South Africa, by giving presentations on Islam and facilitating discussions around these big and daunting topics in easy, everyday conversations.
A prime example of one of these discussions was between me and my host Grandpa. I would always try to initiate a conversation between us to try to make a connection and form a relationship, even though I was not well received at first. After much persistence on my part, eventual patience on his, and a lot of ice cream eaten between conversations about our lives and dreams, my host grandpa and I formed a bond. We built a computer together and went for drives around town and, towards the end of my exchange year, I overheard him mention to my host mum that he realized that Muslim people were "just normal human beings, who also had dreams and hopes too." Thank you, YES!