By Maria Taqdees (YES 2004-2005, Pakistan, placed by ASSE in Reno, NV)
What are some of your biggest accomplishments since becoming an alumni of the YES program?
My YES experience transformed me into a resilient person. I built my own non-profit called, HunarGhar, which is a welfare organization for women empowerment, especially single mothers. I built a shelter home for women and started incubation programs in less privileged areas. I recently won a women's empowerment award from the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, a humanitarian award from the U.S. Embassy and Lincoln Corners Pakistan, and I was selected to attend a civic education workshop as mentor. I serve as a psychotherapist and work on mental health, and I am a philanthropist who works for the betterment of the community by arranging grocery drives, providing monthly stipends to needy families, helping to start small businesses, and running different initiatives including winter drives and "say no to plastic" campaigns.
What are some of your favorite memories from the YES program?
During my YES year, every day was special. It was the golden period of my life, the days which will never return. I remember dinners together, sharing home responsibilities, and having a mother to take care of me, as I lost my real mother at the age of five. I remember going ice skating, skiing, snow shoeing, water skiing, campaigns, and hiking, and everything that I could only dream about in my home country. I remember getting the highest score in English class during my exchange year, joining choir and practicing American classical music, dancing onstage, sharing my culture with American friends, making friends around the globe, and attending Prom night and dancing like no one was watching. These were the best memories, which can never be forgotten.
What are some of the ways you’ve stayed connected to fellow alumni since your exchange experience? What about your host family or friends?
I was involved with several community service activities and have always volunteered my time for the new YES alumni. Whenever I visit the USA, I stay with my host family and we always exchange gifts during special occasions. My kids call my host mother grandma and she considers them her grandchildren.
How did the YES program impact you professionally? What about personally?
The YES program taught me to survive and be resilient in life, even through low periods. I learned skills to adapt to every situation and act accordingly, which helped me become a survivor, an activist, and to initiate my own welfare organization, HunarGhar.
What is one piece of advice you would give to current or future YES program participants?
Value your time in the States, because this is one opportunity that transforms your li\fe and makes you into newer and stronger person. Don't forget to give back to your community.
In 10, 20, or even 30 years, what do you hope the legacy of the YES program will be?
It's been 19 years since I participated in this program and I have seen many incredible stories and leaders coming out of it. I expect this program to grow more so that we can have more change makers to keep the peace on our planet.
Read more about Maria's story in our archives.