YES Programs



YES Alumni Grant: WASH 4 Gender Equality and Education

Two people stand at a well with their hands over a bucket letting water flow over their hands

By Allieu Christopher Moiwa (YES 2013-2014, Sierra Leone, placed by AFS in Enterprise, OR)

A decade ago, I set out on a transformative journey. Growing up in rural Sierra Leone, where opportunities were limited, the idea of traveling abroad felt like an unattainable fantasy. In discovering the YES program, I saw the chance to turn my childhood dream into reality. Applying and being selected as one of eight finalists from a pool of hundreds of candidates was an indescribable feeling.

Upon arriving at my American high school, I was surprised by the quality of the water and sanitation system and the gender parity in the classrooms. Female students consistently outperformed their male counterparts, a stark contrast to the challenges faced by girls competing with boys in Sierra Leone. In my new home in the U.S., the shackles that hold back female empowerment were noticeably diminished.

A group of participants sit in a circle on chairs outside with project leader Alieu addressing them

Returning home during the height of the Ebola outbreak, I relied on the knowledge and habits I acquired in the U.S. to take precautions to prevent the spread to myself and my family. Teaming up with fellow alumni, I helped spread awareness in densely populated Freetown suburbs. Our initiative, the Sip to Survive Project: Don't Touch to Stop the Spread, educated residents on how to curb transmission and provided rehydration medication.

After navigating the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, I found renewed inspiration during the 2022 Beyond YES Africa Summit in Arusha, Tanzania. Drawing from the insights gained through this workshop, my exchange year, and my role as a Community Health Officer, I took the initiative to apply for a YES Alumni Grant to lead a project benefiting my alma mater, Government Secondary School Kenema, and the Nongowa community. The project centered on WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) for gender equality and quality education.

Through the project, we provided clean drinking water to the boarding school, implemented cleanup activities, and delivered educational training to 50 high school students. The project’s events and activities made a positive impact on the lives of the students and the broader community. These young minds were the heart of our project, and their enthusiasm and potential fueled our efforts. By addressing their immediate needs for clean drinking water, a supportive learning environment, and education, we aimed to empower them to break barriers and achieve their full potential.

Group photo of clean up actvity with a large group holding garbage bags

The impact of our project was profound and extensive. By providing clean drinking water to the boarding school, we greatly reduced the risk of waterborne disease, fostered a healthier learning environment, and boosted school attendance. Students no longer had to miss class to venture out early in the morning to fetch water from distant sources or stand in long queues for a single bucket of water for showering and drinking. Our cleanup activities and the introduction of a “litter-free school” not only enhanced the community, but also instilled a sense of pride and responsibility among the students. Through pre- and post-event surveys and participant quotes, we observed a significant shift in attitudes, behaviors, and wellbeing among the students.

"Having access to clean water and a litter-free school has changed my perspective. I feel more focused on my studies,” stated one of the participants.

Looking ahead, our long-term hope for this project extends beyond its immediate impact; we aspire to create a sustainable model that can be replicated in other communities, fostering a culture of education, environmental awareness, and gender equality. To ensure the lasting impact of our efforts, we plan to establish a mentoring program, conduct regular follow-up sessions, and collaborate with local organizations and authorities. By nurturing the seeds we planted, we aim to see these young individuals grow into empowered leaders, shaping a brighter future for their community and beyond.

Six project team members line up and pose for a photo

Embarking on this project was a transformative experience for our team. We learned the power of collaboration, determination, and the impact small initiatives can have on communities. Witnessing the enthusiasm of the students and the support of the community reinforced our belief in the potential for positive change. Our team members, driven by passion and dedication, worked tirelessly to make this project a success. Through lessons learned and inspiration drawn from the implementation of this project, some members of my project team recently applied and got selected for a $10,000 U.S. Embassy grant for the Bio-Sand Water Filtration Project, which will benefit a community of 5,000 people.

We express our heartfelt gratitude to all those who played a vital role in making this project a reality. A special thanks to the U.S. Department of State, the YES Program, iEARN-Sierra Leone, my placement organization AFS, and my American host family and community for their positive influence on my transformative journey. We are also immensely grateful to our project partners for their invaluable guidance and unwavering support in the successful implementation of the project. Their contributions have been instrumental in making a positive impact, and we are truly thankful for their collaboration.