By Akhtar Hussain (YES 2014-2015, Pakistan, hosted by CIEE in Cleveland, TN)
My name is Akhtar Hussain, and I was placed in Cleveland, Tennessee. The YES program changed my horizon by exposing me to diverse cultures and values. I met people from many different countries, which changed my world view. Learning about and coming to understand the U.S. and its history was a privilege, and my host family played a pivotal role in shaping me as a person. They taught me to challenge my own ideas and develop my own understanding of the world. They taught me to be an independent thinker.
Thanks to my YES year, I am also very passionate about community service. I get a deep satisfaction from serving others. And I’m fortunate to have found a way to combine my passion for community service with my interest in technology. Technology is an inherent part of our society, directly or indirectly influencing every sphere of our lives. Pakistan has made many improvements to its educational system, and the government is trying its best to impart a quality education to its citizens with meager resources. But most schools in Pakistan do not teach digital skills or computer science, skills with high demand in global economy and workforce. To improve Pakistan’s economy, the younger generation needs to be prepared to join the workforce with useful skillsets centered on technology. Furthermore, women in Pakistan often face barriers from family and society when they seek mixed-gender office work. Digital skills can empower women to work remotely and earn a living for themselves and their families.
It is with these considerations in mind that I applied for a YES Alumni Grant to conduct my project, Digital Skills in Action. The project consisted of two bootcamps and a tech fair to educate 160 students from 10 underprivileged Islamabad and Rawalpindi high schools on the basics of computer science.
During the bootcamps, experienced trainers taught students the basics of coding, application development, web design, IT, and simple robotics. The bootcamps also encouraged participants to explore online resources from which they may not only learn new skills, but also find freelance work. Our project team highlighted possible economic opportunity by acquainting participants to freelancing platforms, a good source of income for skilled people.
The tech fair was the project’s culminating event to promote the importance of digital skills. Community members from different background came to see what the participants worked on during the bootcamps. The tech fair also featured guest speakers, who shared the importance of learning digital skills, as well as a presentation in which participants exhibited the webpages, robots, and games they developed during the bootcamps.
In a post-workshop survey, 100% of students reported that they were happy they participated in this program, and 85% said they intended to create accounts on WordPress, Blogger, or other platforms to create their own content. 70% of participants said they wanted to pursue studies in computer sciences, IT, and robotics, a significant increase from the 20% who reported a desire to pursue these fields of study before the camp. 100% of participants expressed a willingness to participate in future events organized by YES Alumni and requested more projects of this kind. My project team and I plan to conduct additional activities in these schools and ensure we help and support the participants for the near future.
Conducting this YES Alumni Grant project not only benefited the target audience, but it also broadly strengthened my leadership and management skills and infused in me the spirit of teamwork. I extend my greatest thanks to my project team, including YES alumni, volunteers, and trainers Noshad Ali and Kamal Hussain. We give our utmost gratitude to Principal Zulaikha Bibi of Government High School Islamabad. We greatly appreciate the public support and students' participation, which was so remarkable and led to making this project a huge success. Finally, we offer our sincere thanks to the YES Program and the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for empowering YES alumni to serve their communities and inspire younger generations.