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Where Are They Now? Part One

As our many host families know, you never forget your exchange student, and are often left wondering “What are they up to now?” At IRIS, we keep in contact with your alumni once they return home and are delighted to hear their stories of how they are impacting their home countries. Here are some stories from two of our IRIS alumni:

Ali Haji Mohammed

From the Zanzibar Islands of Tanzania. Hosted in Gilbert, Iowa by the Brekke family for the 2008-2009 school year.

What have you been up to since your exchange year?

Upon my return to Zanzibar, I got involved in many alumni activities, such as teaching science to younger students, painting schools, cleaning beaches, implementing awareness programs, and organizing a training on how to compost household waste.

After finishing my master’s degree in 2017, I started working for the Zanzibar Food and Drug Agency (ZFDA).

Describe any projects, community service events, school/workplace advances that you’d like to share:

In my role at the ZFDA, I learned about a study published in 2006 by Assay et al. on iodine deficiency in Zanzibar. The article reported high rates of goiter and very low levels of iodized salt use in several Zanzibar communities. My fellow alumni and I saw a viable way to make the people of Zanzibar healthier with an awareness project, so we applied for (and received) a 2018 YES Alumni Grant. We started by surveying both producers and consumers about their knowledge of the use of iodine in salt. Lab results showed that only 52% of the samples collected had iodine levels in the desired range.

My team and I conducted several awareness sessions in order to obtain our goal of raising awareness. In these sessions, we explained iodized salt regulations, health benefits of using iodized salt, and disorders associated with iodine deficiency. Session facilitators educated community members at these sessions on sources of iodine in food and the soil; the importance of iodine to human health, especially to pregnant women and children; and disorders associated with iodine deficiency.

In conclusion, most farmers are aware, but the community is not. Our visit to eight villages around Zanzibar was helpful to educate members of those communities, but more must be done to raise awareness, especially in rural areas.

How did your exchange year in the United States benefit you as a person?

Among the many things I learned in the U.S. were the concepts of volunteerism and mentorship. During my YES year, I volunteered at Mary Greeley Hospital every Saturday to help patients in the oncology department. With my high school friends, we did activities such as picking up trash on the side of the road. Volunteering means that, rather than waiting for social improvements to be made by government agencies or just sitting around and complaining about problems, we take the initiative and make change from the bottom up.

How has IRIS continued to influence your life today?

Since I was chosen to participate in the YES program through IRIS, the program has influenced me in so many ways. Some of these include the Virtual Alumni Leader training where I got to meet and discuss different issues facing our alumni organizations and come up with ways to better our associations. Also, during our stay in US we got to learn a lot about volunteerism and mentor-ship and how these concepts can impact our lives. Since then we are continuing to give back to our community by participating in different activities that are funded by IRIS. Today IRIS continues to support us in our different issues through training and encourages us to serve our community via community projects. Recently through IRIS, I received a YES grant that helped me to conduct an awareness campaign on the use of iodized salt. This has enabled us to create a network and we feel so connected here at home and internationally.

Hillary Evans Odhiambo

From Kenya and was hosted in Paton, Iowa by Mr. and Mrs. Rohden during the 2014-2015 school year.

What have you been up to since your exchange year?

Currently, I am a student at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) studying Bachelor of Construction Management. I will be resuming my 3rd year of study in October 2019.

In regards to school, I have held leadership positions as the 1st year and 2nd year representative of my class in the Interactive Construction Management Student Organization (ICOMSO). I am also the incumbent Community Service Head of JKUAT Red Cross Chapter.

Describe any projects, community service events, school/workplace advances that you’d like to share:

Following my exchange year, having gained an understanding of the importance of giving back, I have participated in many community service and projects including this year. I have participated in many projects with my KUAT Red Cross Chapter. This includes fundraising for the Toto Rehab Centre in Kasarani, Nairobi – a Centre for children living with disability, attending the Annual Tech Expo – JKUAT and participating in my chapter’s blood drives to help save those in need of pints of blood. I also participated in a cleanup held in the premises of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. The cleanup is an event held annually by Red Cross in association with other clubs to uphold environmental awareness discouraging careless disposal of waste by the student population.

I have also had the opportunity to attend several workshops and accompany groups on various trips. I accompanied Global Prep students – High school students from the USA doing a 2 week cultural exchange in Kenya – to various children’s homes and other informal settlement projects within the country in efforts of understanding the situation on the ground and our efforts in support of the community. I attended the Global Competence and Alumni workshop aimed at working with high school teachers and the National Cohesion and Integration Commission through Amani (peace) Clubs to foster intercultural learning about the YES program.

How did your exchange year in the United States benefit you as a person?

It’s a fact that the YES Program and IRIS nurtured me to be the person I am today. During my exchange year, the interaction with an intricate American culture among other opportunities offered under the umbrella of YES/ IRIS opened my eyes to an epiphany. Despite my humble upbringing, I was just as much a factor in the pursuit of systemic change to make the world a better place. I am now an empowered young adult who is passionate about creating a voice for those marginalized and fostering kindness by giving not because we have more, but because it is our duty to ensure equal opportunity for all.

How has IRIS continued to influence your life today?

IRIS has particularly been an influence in my engagements. I have been a two time bona fide of the Annual Alumni Scholarship that has helped finance my higher education so far and I am eternally grateful for that. Moreover, IRIS has shown commitment not just to my personal development, but also to my international circle. With the help of the 2018 Annual Alumni Scholarship, I was able to help Ezekiel Special School for children with Alzheimer’s and Cerebral Palsy secure sustainable nutrition. The school’s founder who solely relied on well-wishers was amazed at the generosity of IRIS. It is an honor, that I of all the people was able to participate in the exchange program and continue to interact with IRIS as an alumni!

IRIS alumni are doing incredible things around the globe. In our next blog we will catch up with two more alumni and what they’ve been up to lately. We appreciate the thoughtfulness of our donors who help make our Global Grants and Scholarships possible. Without you, these projects and passions of our alumni could not be fulfilled.

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