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Where Are They Now? Part Two

We know it’s hard to forget an exchange student once they finish their year here in the United States, especially as a host family. That’s why we started our “Where Are They Now?” series to ask some of our alumni what they have been up to since their exchange year. At IRIS, we keep in contact with our alumni once they return home and are delighted to hear their stories of how they are impacting their home countries. For this blog, we are highlighting two alumni from Tanzania who have done some amazing community service projects together! Read more about Nabil and Abdoul-razaq below:

Nabil Mussa

From the island of Zanzibar, Tanzania and went to Davenport Central High School during the 2014-2015 school year in Davenport, Iowa.

What have you been up to since your exchange year?

Since my exchange year, I have been up to a lot of things. First, I had to make sure my education here in Tanzania went well. I passed all of my classes and graduated from high school. Since arriving back, using the skills and knowledge I got from my time in the U.S., I became a big voice in my high school, and even participated in national science competitions. After graduation, I have been doing many community service projects to help our communities as much as I can, in terms of environmental, educational and many other social matters. I have also been coordinating with many other organizations to do volunteering activities in our communities. Apart from that, I have been a big influence to the young alumni by encouraging them to play their roles in helping communities by creating community service projects. Before the new YES groups leave for the USA, I use my time to train them to be better YES program participants while in the U.S. and to be better alumni once they are back. Although it is not easy to do all of those things, I managed my time well while I was in high school and I hope to do the same now that I am about to start college.

Describe any projects, community services, events, school/workplace advances that you would like to share.

I have opened up an English club in Kisiwandui Primary School which helps the students learn English and apply it in their studies. The project is led by YES Alumni and non YES alumni participants who know English. The teaching sessions take place once a week on Fridays. The students are a mixed group of first through sixth graders. The students learn basic English even though the children may find it difficult to understand their teachers and classes because of the language barrier at first. Some other projects I participated in were helping start botanical gardens at schools, planting trees in Haile Selassie Secondary School and going to the Kidoti village in Zanzibar to donate clothes and food materials to people whose houses and properties were destroyed by heavy rainfall. We also went to Mchangani village in Zanzibar to donate clothes to children who are orphans and children from poor families.

I also did a service project working with other YES alumni where we fundraised through our social media accounts and by talking to government officials and family members to buy materials for hygiene such as bathing soaps, washing soaps and pairs of slippers. We sent all fundraised items to a mental hospital in Zanzibar helping people with mental disabilities to help their personal hygiene maintenance. Another community event I participated in was the All About Albinism Conference which involved raising awareness to the community concerning people with albinism. I prepared a presentation to educate on the causes of albinism and the challenges people with albinism face. I also asked higher government officials who were there to help with solving problems people with albinism face.

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

My exchange year in the U.S. benefited me a lot and still keeps benefiting me today. My host mother taught me how to be independent and to be responsible for my actions. That lesson has been helping me a lot here in my country as I entirely depend on myself and I take responsibility in every action I take in my life including my big life decisions. My high school in the U.S. taught me lessons on how to work hard and to look for good friends instead of potential bad friends. Since many classes I had were new to me, I had to work extra hard so I could keep up with the rest of the class which I did. This gave me a lesson that in life whenever you put dedication and hard work into something it will turn out to be the best for you.

My hometown in the U.S. encouraged me to be a good person and to have a heart to help those who need help. Since most of the people on my street were nice, I learned that smiling at people and being nice is the best way of engaging with people which is something I do even now back in my home country.

How has IRIS continued to influence your life today?

Thanks to IRIS’s supportive funds, there has been enough funding for all of my community service projects. My community is thankful to have me helping them in many different ways because of the support I get from IRIS. IRIS also continues to help me be a better person by building up my CV because of the training IRIS provides through its workshops. My life now has many connections with many people and organizations from all over the world through IRIS. Many organizations love what IRIS does and they ask me to join them in making our communities better places.

Abdoul-razaq Yussuf Mbalamula

YES alumnus recruited by IRIS for the 2014-2015 school year placed in Springdale, Maryland and went to school at Charles Herbat Flowers High School.

What have you been up to since your exchange year?

After I successfully completed my exchange year, going back to my home country was the biggest step I ever had to take. Trying to fit back to my homeland environment while at the same time trying to keep up with what I learned in my exchange year was a full time job. My priorities were studying as I was very behind in terms of the syllabus from all the classes I had missed during my stay in the US. I had to study harder and finally I managed to obtain good grades which enabled me to move forward in my academic journey.

Another priority was to give back to my community as I was much more aware of the importance of doing so after my exchange year. I tried to engage myself in more community projects as much as I could in terms of participation and organizing them. While still keeping up with school, I also made sure that I was not behind in promoting awareness in community activities. I was eager in becoming a role model to other students in becoming YES Alumni as well as setting an example on what is it like to engage yourself in helping your own community. I also worked in expanding my connection on number of people and companies to work with in terms of community projects in order to promote myself and my fellow alumni in Tanzania and push the community projects further.

Describe any projects, community services, events, school/workplace advances that you would like to share.

At school I was elected as head of the Innovation club for my entire senior year. The club aimed on promoting and motivating students into becoming young scientists and conducting projects of their own that could benefit the community they live in. I was also able to work with YUNA, a United Nation’s environmental club for students which focused on improving social welfare such as cleaning our environment and organizing projects that involved students helping each other at school to boost the moral in education.

Other projects I conducted were under Zanzibar YES Alumni Association (ZAYAA) and Tanzania YES Alumni Association (TAYAA) in association with other organizations. I worked together several times with the ACESS program in Zanzibar which conducted projects in teaching English, cleaning and raising awareness to students in various schools and fundraising to help senior citizens and orphans. Recently I participated in a project about raising awareness for people with albinism where I attended a conference and had a chance to express my views on actions to be taken in order to help people with disabilities.

Together with ZAYAA alumni, we organized a series of projects which aimed to teach the newly selected YES students the importance of community services before they left for their exchange year. During the projects we had a chance to do many activities with the students including painting nursery schools and cleaning activities even at our ZAYAA office. I also was involved in the continuous teaching project taking place at the ZAYAA office where we teach English and basic computer skills every weekend for free. Other projects I conducted under ZAYAA included painting schools, donating food and clothes to the orphanages and other cleaning activities.

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

The exchange year in the US has a major influence in my life today. The obvious advantage that I gained in the US is the improvement of my English which played a big role in many things including my academic life. It also made it easier for me to prepare for academic or social interviews because it’s now easier for me to communicate and express myself with confidence.

Throughout my stay, I gained confidence and earned a self independent character by doing things for myself and the community around me. My leadership skills have improved after my exchange year and because of that I have become a more responsible person for myself and my community and take action whenever its needed. My exchange year in US also helped me become aware of a million things I can do to help my community which I never thought of before. Before my exchange year I thought that everything in my community that was regarded as a development had to be done by the government. This is different to me now since I have gained the ability to make the changes in my community wherever possible.

How has IRIS continued to influence your life today?

IRIS keeps changing my life today because being a recognized member in IRIS has opened more doors for me in-terms of my academic life and community projects. I have gained more connections and have met more people willing to work with me. I am taking community projects to the next level under the name of IRIS which is my primary aim from the YES program.

Also, IRIS is still funding most of the community service projects in my country and offers an endless support in-terms of funds and recruiting new students every year. This makes it easy for individuals like myself who are eager to bring change to our communities. We know that IRIS is here and is working beside us.

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