YES Programs



Using the Alumni Network to Create Change in Macedonia

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By Noemi Causidis, YES Macedonia, 2010-2011

Since coming back from my time abroad with the YES Program, I have continuously tried to stay involved in YES Alumni Macedonia, starting with the "Handmade Happiness" project in August through September 2011. I came up with this project and got the idea from my own personal hobby, hand-crafting jewelry. The idea was to have a fundraiser that required a minimal amount of funding, but to get the alumni quite active. We didn't apply for a fund. Instead, there was a box at the office and all of us, alumni and staff members of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, contributed as much as we could. After raising the money, I bought the materials that I did not already have, and we had a couple of meetings in the office, during which we made the jewelry. Also, I made some pieces myself in my own free time. The next phase was the commercial part of selling the pieces to raise money. We had a fellow alumnus, Martin Ivanovski, take pictures of the pieces and we posted them on our Facebook site. Everyone started promoting them, and eventually we sold a large number of pieces. We ended up raising a nice amount of money, especially considering that the funding was a small amount. We donated the money to an organization that helps children with disabilities.

The next project I worked on was "Smiles Under Masks," a project coordinated by Tamara Kotevska, in whose organization I had a big role, and Simona Ristovska, in October 2011. We thought of the idea at one of our meetings when Tamara decided to throw a fundraising party for Halloween. We organized bands, found a venue that didn't charge us, and got money for selling drinks. We raised the money from entrance fees (around 2$ each). We agreed to give the money we raised to the family of a boy suffering from autism. The idea wasn't just to raise money, but also to raise awareness about the condition to the people in Skopje. The party went amazingly. Many people came dressed up, and we raised a lot of money. The boy and the family were there, and we all had a great time.

Then, in March 2012 and again in March 2014, I participated in YES Alumni Macedonia's annual International Woman's Day Event. Every year, we buy flowers and candy and go to the home of the elderly to spend some time with them, sing, dance, talk and enjoy their company. In 2012, I was a part of the preparations – we hand-crafted cards for each resident and wrapped flowers for them. On the day of our visit, we delivered everything to the home and simply had a great time with them. Unfortunately, in 2013 I couldn't be a part of the project, but this year I was happy to be back with our group at the home and again enjoyed my time there a lot. I have to say these annual projects are my favorite. Even though we're just doing a little, we're still making them so happy. It isn't about the flowers or the cards; it’s about simply spending time with those who just want to be treated normally and to have people around to keep them company and to tell their stories to.

On December 1st, 2012, I volunteered for International AIDS Day. In order to raise awareness about AIDS and educate the young about it, Semra Ameti and I spent a day at the orphanage with the children. After the presentation we made about AIDS, we played games, talked and made red ribbons with them. The children were amazing, and we really enjoyed the day.

I also participated in the "Common Goal" Presentation in October 2013. After the common goal workshop we came up with a project that unites all the alumni in the Balkans from the YES program and the A-Smyle organization. The goal was to promote regional cooperation as a series of events. The first one was the presentation I gave at the American Corner in Skopje with examples of past events among countries in the region. The purpose of my presentation was to give examples of cooperation especially among the young, starting with the liberation of Skopje in World War II, the aftermath of the ‘63 earthquake and the rebuilding of Skopje, up until today’s projects in a wide variety of fields including sports, art, education and famous examples such as collaboration on movies or music festivals.

Alongside these projects, I have been a part of many conferences and workshops, held presentations and promoted our program. I have been an alumni speaker on a couple occasions at our PDO and re-entry seminars, sharing the work we do and encouraging our new alumni, as well as the workshops in Podgorica - "Common Goal" - and in Prishtina - "Youth Entrepreneurship." 

When it comes to future ideas, I would very much like to apply my field of study, architecture, to alumni projects. I am trying to figure out projects that would capture youth involvement, critical thinking, eco-design, sustainability, urban design and more. More specifically, I'm interested in gathering the young, and their opinions about their place in our city and what they feel the city is lacking, whether it is a place to sit, or to park a bike, or to read a book, or to lie down. I hope to encourage them to design and create these improvements themselves, with the help of architectural mentors. Making something with you own hands adds a certain value to things in an age where we have everything produced by a machine. Encouraging urban furniture is very important, especially in Skopje, which is being transformed into higher, denser urban areas and big mass transit streets that only lower the quality of the environment in Skopje. All in all, I am interested in anything that promotes youth involvement and cross-country cooperation, because I see them as some of the main things missing in our region.