YES Programs



YES Alumni Grant: Women Who Build Each Other Up

Group of women seated on a table knitting together

By Hacer Şenoğlu (YES 2018-2019, Türkiye, placed by PAX in Tacoma, WA)

My exchange year was one of the biggest milestones of my life so far. I immersed myself in diverse environments, engaged in school clubs, spent time with my host family, attended events with my exchange student cluster, and participated in numerous volunteer activities. These experiences allowed me to interact with a wide array of people from different backgrounds, and broaden my perspective. Volunteer work has been especially enlightening, teaching me the value of contributing to my community and showing me how much can be achieved with the resources and talents we already possess, however modest they may be. I currently volunteer with the YES Alumni Association in Türkiye and am active in alumni events. I also volunteer with several other organizations, both at the national and international level.

Two female participants preparing a meat dish

I have noticed that migrants in Türkiye, particularly refugees fleeing conflict in Syria, struggle to integrate into the community. This observation increased my interest in intercultural dialogue, diversity, and integration. During my exchange year in the U.S., I experienced firsthand what it was like to be an “outsider” in my host neighborhood, which provided me with a unique perspective upon my return home.

In 2022, I was a participant in a YES Alumni Grant-funded proposal writing summit, organized by Sertaç Çalışkan ’17. Through this opportunity, I gained insight into proposal writing, which inspired me to be an active participant in creating solutions. In collaboration with Mehmet Mert Oran ’22, we developed a project idea aimed at facilitating integration through skill-based educational activities. I chose to support women, drawing on my personal connection to the challenges women face in accessing opportunities, an issue that is exacerbated for migrant women.

With these goals, I applied for a YES Alumni Grant to implement a social integration program that centered on skill-building workshops on knitting and cooking. The workshops were designed to foster connections among the 20 participants – 10 women from Türkiye and 10 migrant women. Our partner organization, the Refugees Association, provided invaluable support in selecting participants, securing a workshop venue, providing an interpreter, and lending their extensive experience with refugees.

Participants cooking meat and other ingredients on the stove

Our participants were NEET women, which stands for “not in education, employment, or training,” a group often serving primarily in maternal roles. The project aimed to offer them a space to express their individuality, engage with broader society, and acquire new, potentially income-generating, skills. By the project's conclusion, participants learned to knit beanies and scarves and acquired new culinary skills in preparing dishes from a variety of cuisines. Participants also gained insight into transforming their ideas into viable business models.

Our project's WhatsApp group remains an active platform for ongoing communication among the participants. The pre- and post-project surveys revealed that participants forged cross-cultural friendships, acquired new skills for potentially generating income, and gained a foundational understanding of starting a business. One participant shared, “As a non-native, I’m happy that I had an opportunity to have local people in my daily life and do activities with them. This project was very useful for me to learn new things, do new activities, and interact with different people.”

I am actively discussing ideas for future initiatives with our partner organization, including the possibility of our participants organizing an event at a local market, where they can showcase and sell the culinary and knitting items they learned to make during the project.

Women seated on table helping each other during a knitting workshop

Undertaking this project was immensely beneficial not only for the community, but also for my personal and professional growth. I acquired valuable skills, including proposal writing, project management, budgeting, and organizational and communication skills. The experience also afforded me valuable insight into the culture of non-profit organizations and enriched my understanding through interaction with individuals from diverse backgrounds.

I would like to say “thank you” to my dear teammate, Mehmet, for his invaluable assistance throughout the entire project. My appreciation also goes out to the YES Alumni Association in Türkiye for its pivotal role in uniting alumni, and facilitating our continuous development. A special acknowledgment to our partner organization, the Refugees Association, whose support was instrumental in executing the project successfully. Additionally, I am thankful to my fellow alumna, Sevde Bati ’22, for her contributions. Lastly, I express my profound gratitude to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and to my placement organization, PAX.

Sertaç Çalışkan (YES 2016-2017, Türkiye, placed by World Learning in Waterford, VA)
Mehmet Mert Oran (YES 2021-2022, Türkiye, placed by CIEE in Lake Oswego, OR)
Sevde Bati (YES 2021-2022, Türkiye, placed by AFS-USA in Sumneytown, PA)