Yazan’s world has gotten smaller as he has connected with people from across the globe.
By Daniel Valai (YES 2017-2018, Liberia, placed by IRIS in Altoona, IA)
During my exchange year, I was hosted by the Geiger family and supported with an abundance of love from the members of Southeast Polk Family Church. My participation in the YES program has opened my eyes in many ways. I began to see problems as opportunities to help and improve my community. I have volunteered in many community-based projects. In 2019, I joined the Partners for Education - Liberia, Inc., a YES alumni founded venture, as a Communications Officer. The more I engaged with the community in this role, the more opportunities I began to see and take advantage of. Currently, I serve as Head of Administration for the organization, where I lead a team of volunteers to engage in community service. I also currently serve as President of the YES Alumni Association of Liberia.
Liberia is a beautiful country with an incredible history. The country was founded by freed slaves from the United States. Gaining its independence in 1847, Liberia is the oldest independent nation in Africa. It is home to diverse wildlife, beautiful beaches, and amazing cultures – I recommend anyone to explore it. While Liberia is an amazing place to be, the country suffered from a brutal 14-year civil war, which left the country in total desolation. The economy, infrastructure, and education were all badly affected.
As a result of the civil war, many people live in severe poverty and many employees, such as teachers, are underpaid. This has resulted in a lack of integrity in schools and workplaces. A system of “cash for grades” has made its way into many academic institutions and has taught students a negative lesson that corruption and academic malpractice is normal. To address this problem, my team and I applied for a YES Alumni Grant for a project that aimed to restore academic integrity in schools across Liberia.
During the first stage of the project, we created 20 integrity clubs in schools and trained club members on how to advocate for academic integrity. We engaged school administrators and taught them how to support the integrity clubs in their schools. In each school, we installed “integrity boxes” for students to anonymously report educational integrity malpractices.
We did a lot of publicity, including on several radio stations, a city drive-through, and a robust social media campaign. It was encouraging to see how many people welcomed the idea and supported the project in many ways. Our initial goal was to reach 2,000 people, but we far exceeded our expectations and reached an even greater audience. During the project, we worked with 126 people directly, but through our publicity initiatives, we reached an estimated audience of more than 46,000 people.
The project not only received great engagement from the community; we also received in-kind support from the YMCA-Liberia, the YES Alumni Association, the International Education and Resource Network-Liberia, Radio Five, ECOWAS Radio, and the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia. This support greatly helped to increase the success of the initiative.
We consider this a pilot project, and with the results we yielded, we will surely be continuing and expanding this initiative. We want this program to benefit many more schools in Liberia. Therefore, we hope to collaborate with other organizations, companies, government institutions, and academic institutions. We are also hoping to tap into the goodwill of individuals and supporters to help scale this project and build a tomorrow of ethical leaders. If we are to achieve that tomorrow, we will need strong collaborations.
This project wouldn’t have been successful without the help of Partners for Education, its founder Emmanuel Godfrey (YES 2015-2016, Liberia, placed by AFS-USA in Cumberland Center, ME), many hardworking volunteers, the YES Alumni Association of Liberia, the YMCA-Liberia, and many others. We would like to thank the U.S. Department of State for providing financial support for this project and the YES program. It was a great experience collaborating with everyone who supported and helped in the implementation of the project.
We did it! And we will surely succeed if we continue to collaborate. The time to act is now!