By Ikhwan Omar (YES 2013-2014, Kenya, placed by World Link in Colorado Springs, CO)
My exchange year was a transformative journey that enriched my life in every way. Living in the U.S., a country known for its commitment to freedom and equality, was a dream come true. My experience in the U.S. allowed me to achieve personal goals, including mastering skills like cycling, swimming, skiing, and earning a place on the boys’ soccer team. I discovered my true self and unlocked my untapped potential for leadership and inciting change. The experience I gained played a pivotal role in shaping the person I am today.
Upon returning home, I began thinking about how to give back. My home of Lamu, is a picturesque island nestled along the coast of Kenya, which has long been celebrated for its pristine beaches, rich cultural heritage, and vibrant marine ecosystems. However, beneath this idyllic facade lies a pressing issue that threatens not only the island’s natural beauty but the global environment. The island attracts both tourists and settlers, leading to population surge and, subsequently, more waste. Historically, waste disposal practices on the island have been inadequate, with much of the trash ending up in open dumps or finding its way into the surrounding waters. The mismanagement of waste in Lamu has given rise to a range of environmental problems, with severe consequences for the local community, marine life, and the broader global climate.
I applied for a YES Alumni Grant to conduct a project aimed at finding constructive solutions to the issue of waste management in Lamu, focusing on the three main areas of Mkomani Ward: Kipungani, Matondoni, and Amu. Through the project, we worked with 150 community members, including persons with disabilities (PWDs), to ensure that waste management knowledge reached a broad audience. Fifty people from each of the three locations participated in cleanup activities, workshops, and discussions on how to improve waste management in their communities. The project also recognized and involved many outstanding waste management advocates already working in this sphere. Their valuable contributions were celebrated, and their experiences and dedication enriched the project with practical insights.
Project participants will go on to serve as ambassadors of this initiative to others in their communities, maximizing the project's impact and ensuring that the knowledge and practices they gained are widely disseminated. We’ve already begun to witness the results, with community members enthusiastically embracing the techniques and insights we shared. For many, the education on waste management was eye-opening, as they previously had limited awareness of waste-related harm or potential solutions. Feedback from the community has been very positive, reflecting an eagerness for environmental improvement.
On a personal note, this project served as a valuable lesson on the importance of teamwork, patience, and resilience. I wish to extend my heartfelt gratitude to my dedicated team, which included YES alumni and volunteers from the Lamu Organization for Youths and PWDs (LOYD), for their unwavering support and commitment, which was instrumental in making this project a resounding success. I encourage my fellow youths to remain dedicated to their community-oriented goals and actively become the change they aspire to see.
I would also like to express my sincere appreciation to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, American Councils for International Education, AFS, and LOYD for supporting me in this project.