By Marija Miteva (YES 2017-2018, Macedonia, hosted by American Councils PO in O'Fallon, IL)
My exchange year in the U.S. was probably one of the years where I changed the most. It helped me develop my character and it helped me widen my perspective on diversity. While I was at school in the U.S., I had classes in which students with special needs participated. I was just amazed by the fact that they are so enthusiastic and free to do and say whatever they want. But that was only because in my hometown, Shtip, children with special needs go to separate schools from me. I was never able to talk to them and about their school. But in the U.S., that changed. I learned from these classmates that nothing can stop me from learning or trying my best.
When I returned to Shtip, I thought to myself, why should we go to separate schools? There are a lot of other people that think the same way as I do, and maybe with a little help, I can make a change in my community. I organized my first YES alumni project on August 6, 2018, at the elementary school Dimitar Vlahov. The project was a series of discussions and activities called Try to Look with Closed Eyes. Twenty students joined the event, which focused on what we, the students, can do about the separation of our schools.
One activity that really astonished the attendees was when one participant tried to do everyday activities with her eyes covered with a scarf. She tried pouring water in a cup, but couldn’t see how full the cup was getting as she poured. She tried writing down her name, but the letters didn’t end up in the correct places. Then we gave her a person to help her with things like recognizing objects and tying her shoes. When the activity was finished, I asked her how she had felt when she was by herself, and later how she felt when a stranger helped her finish some of the challenges. She admitted that she had felt confused, but then realized why we need to be there for all of our fellow students.
During this project, we were visited by two representatives from the Youth Council of the Municipality, who talked to us about how we can start making the changes we want to see in our schools. I was really happy when all the students that attended the project began sharing so many ideas. One idea that received the strongest support was having a petition sent to the mayor’s office requesting support for making our school wheelchair accessible. It was really amazing to see so many young minds all at one place talking about what they can do in their community as one big group. Hopefully, our enthusiasm and will changes the place where we live into something better.