YES Programs



YES Alumni Grant: Shield for Elephants

A participant showing off an elephant painting JPG

By Idah Kananu Muriithi (YES 2013-2014, Kenya, placed by American Councils in Bettendorf, IA)

In the cosmic dance of destiny, they say lightning seldom strikes the same place twice. Yet, destiny has resonated through every fiber of my being since my transformative journey through the YES program. The YES program, a portal to self-discovery, not only made me an ambassador of my beloved country, Kenya, but also a fervent advocate for our national treasures, particularly the majestic elephants that roam our lands. YES became the catalyst that turned my dreams into reality and catapulted me into a realm of profound success.

Stepping onto U.S. soil for my exchange year was like diving into a mosaic of cultures. From the towering skyscrapers of New York to the serene landscapes of the Midwest, every place I visited echoed the vibrant mosaic of diversity. This melting pot of ideas, beliefs, and perspectives shaped my understanding of the world. In the heart of this cultural amalgamation, I discovered my voice, my purpose, and my role as a global citizen.

YES Grantee Idah handing out a certificate to a participant JPG

Returning to Kenya, I found myself immersed in the breathtaking landscape of Northern Laikipia, where elephants roamed freely and antelope graced the earth like living art. This sanctuary, a testament to the intricate dance of coexistence, was paradoxically threatened by the thinning fabric that wove together wildlife and human communities.

In the harshness of drought, wildlife ventured closer to human settlements, seeking sustenance. A tragic consequence unfolded as livelihoods crumbled and lives were lost. The very heartbeat of coexistence was jeopardized, demanding urgent intervention to restore the delicate equilibrium.

As a passionate wildlife advocate, I couldn’t stand idly by. The YES Alumni Grant opportunity allowed me to weave a narrative of change. My project aimed to not only address the immediate challenges but to also plant the seeds of enduring transformation. We identified a crucial need for the community to foster understanding and tolerance towards wildlife.

Participants painting wildlife images on canvas one girl in the focus with a paintbrush

The project became a beacon of hope, training 15 youths from the most affected communities. Eight industry experts, including animal behavior specialists in environmental educators, served as architects of knowledge, imparting skills that transcended traditional boundaries. The curriculum delved into community dynamics, challenge mitigation, advocacy, and fundraising strategies. Sessions on proposal and grant writing, a career clinic, and social media branding illuminated pathways for these young individuals.

The ripple effect of change is most potent when it touches the lives of those directly impacted. One participant shared, “I never thought I could be a voice for the elephants, but now I know I can make a difference.”

Two participants with their notebooks and pens in hand sharing notes

The impact of the project went beyond teaching skills; it was about igniting a fire that would fuel long-term change. The true essence of change lies in its sustainability. The project's long-term hope transcends immediate results. It envisions a community where the youth become the vanguard of wildlife conservation, seamlessly integrating it into the fabric of daily life. As these seeds of awareness grow, the community will not only coexist with wildlife but actively contribute to its preservation. Our strategy involves continuous mentorship, acknowledging that the journey extends beyond the project. It's an ongoing evolution and a dedicated commitment to nurturing the roots of change.

I extend my heartfelt thanks to the YES program for being the catalyst of change and to the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for their unwavering support. AFS -Kenya has been a constant source of support, guiding me through the labyrinth of possibilities. Thanks to our partner organizations, Mpala Research Centre, Laikipia Wildlife Forum, and Unit92. Your collaboration painted the canvas of success. Lastly, many thanks to the team of volunteers whose dedication was the ink that penned this story of change. May your blessings never run dry, for you are the unsung heroes, the silent architects of transformation.