By Sertaç Çalışkan (YES 2016-2017, Türkiye, placed by World Learning in Waterford, VA)
Like most exchange students, I found it challenging to adapt the language and culture at the start of my exchange year. But I was hosted by the best host family one could ask for, and my host family – as well as my friends and YES staff – supported me through the difficult days. That was how I came to realize the YES community is sacred and that every YES student and alum should know its value.
After returning to Turkey, I wanted to organize a project to give back to society and the next generation. However, I didn’t know how to write a project proposal, nor did I have any foundational knowledge in project planning. So, I started volunteering with the YES alumni network, and since then, I have participated in almost every volunteer activity and project in Turkey! I built strong relationships and networks in my community, which has helped me gain basic knowledge on how to design a project and the courage get started.
Through my engagement with fellow alumni, especially with the more junior alumni cohorts, I realized that they are all like I once was – they have ideas but don’t know where to begin. They are anxious and lack the confidence to take the first step. Therefore, fellow alumnus Ugur Gonul and I, supported by a team of alumni planners and facilitators, received a YES Alumni Grant to host the YES Alumni Project Proposal Writing Summit.
The Summit was held in Istanbul in December 2022 for 33 alumni participants, who came from around the country. Participants engaged in sessions about changemaking, problem identification, cause and effect analysis, budgeting, team management, and SMART goals. After these general sessions, participants worked in groups to plan a project based on their shared interests, such as human rights or the environment.
To make this project successful, we depended on the experience of our team. Eight alumni who have attended previous YES Alumni Changemakers Workshops and/or who have designed projects in the past served as trainers. Alumni giving back to other alumni by sharing their expertise and skills is a beautiful thing! It builds capacity and self-sufficiency within our alumni community.
We believe this summit has been a spark for many projects to come. Three groups of alumni from Turkey have submitted proposals for the 2023 YES Alumni Grants cycle. We hope we’ve trained alumni who will go on to affect the lives of many more people through the projects they organize.
This Summit wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Thanks for supporting the alumni community in Turkey and making this amazing project possible for us.
Ugur Gonul (YES 2012-2013, Türkiye, placed by CIEE in Burkburnett, TX)