August 23, 2013

Inspired to Volunteer and Motivated to Change

Reham Al-Eryani was going to be a writer.

When the 25 year old Yemeni woman applied to the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study program in 2004/2005, she was motivated by a desire to experience American culture first-hand. She hoped to learn more about the world before she went back to Yemen to study writing and literature at university.

Little did she know, her year in Fairfield, CA, would change those plans and the trajectory of her life.

While on the YES program, Reham learned about community service. She volunteered at the school library and in a thrift store.  She also worked as an educator, presenting about Yemeni culture to local groups.  

“Instead of just thinking about myself, I learned to think about helping people around me and helping my society as a whole,” Al-Eryani said.

These eye-opening experiences stuck with her when she returned to Yemen to finish her last year of school.  Instead of going straight to university as originally planned, Al-Eryani decided to spend a gap year volunteering in her own community.

She volunteered in many different ways, such as park clean ups, visiting orphanages, and other activities.

“After the YES program volunteering became a part of my life,“ Al-Eryani said.

After her gap year was over, Al-Eryani went back to school and got a bachelor’s degree in graphic design.

She chose graphic design because she enjoys it, but also because it has a promising future in Yemen. One of Al-Eryani’s long-term goals is to open her own advertising agency in Yemen.  She would like to use her graphic design skills to help engage youth and improve access to education and sports in Yemen through media. She also wants to publish a book on Yemeni handicrafts.

Though she now works as a freelance graphic designer, she has not let go of the spirit of volunteerism that captured her during her YES year. She is a volunteer youth animator and has won three Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund awards for her creative service project ideas. This year, her project “My Notebook, Daftary” aims to teach Yemeni students who cannot afford notebooks for school about the importance of paper and notebook recycling.

For Al-Eryani, none of this would have been possible without YES. During the year she spent in the United States she won a video competition, went to visit Disneyland and Hollywood, and made dozens of memories that she will cherish forever.

But the most important thing she took away from the program and still finds relevant is her constant desire to do more and learn more, for herself and others.  

 “Being involved in my community is a big part of my life now, thanks to YES,” she said.