In June, 2014, 34 Saudi Arabian college students came to the United States as participants in Legacy International’s Saudi Young Leaders Exchange Program, sponsored by the Embassy of the United States in Riyadh.

In the U.S., the Saudi students impressed countless Americans with their kindness, integrity, and commitment to make a positive impact in their communities. But their journey to the States was just the beginning.

Saudi Young Leaders Exchange community development and volunteerism

Ahmed educates community members about diabetes prevention

Upon their return home, the Saudi students began to implement individually designed “follow-on projects.” These are initiatives that the participants developed and implemented in an area of personal importance and concern. Projects were completed in fields such as public health, education, the environment, and literacy.

Mashail and Esraa

Esraa and Mashail with some of their volunteer team.

While in the U.S., Legacy provided hands-on training to the Saudis using our unique, experiential learning model. Legacy’s process involves guided inquiry into pressing challenges back home as well as one’s personal concerns. It also involves spending time with U.S. professionals and organizations while observing first-hand the good work they are doing in their communities, and the methods they use to achieve results.

After observing successful programs and best practices in the U.S., the students apply their observations and insights in a hands-on way while carrying out a personal initiative back home. Legacy’s trainers and staff provide coaching and support along the way, as well as a small mini-grant to cover program expenses.

Saudi Young Leaders Legacy volunteers

Volunteers help elderly woman on pilgrimage

Two young women, Esraa and Mashail, worked together to help elderly community members travel to Mecca on a meaningful pilgrimage which would otherwise not have been possible. They organized a team of volunteers and all the program logistics to make the trip a reality.

Another participant, Ayah, developed a project for young children to experience the joy of outdoor play after observing that young people spend much of their time in front of screens and indoors.

Ahmed developed a project on diabetes awareness, which included handing out information and even samples of healthy food. After running into roadblocks while recruiting doctors at one hospital, he turned to another that was excited to participate.

Another student, Mohammad, an accomplished amateur photographer and filmmaker, developed a project to combat corruption by creating a video and posting it on social media. Mohammad shared the video with Saudi Arabia’s National Anti-Corruption Commission, which published it on their YouTube channel.

Batool, from Safya City in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province, wrote a 225-page book called “lessons from America” in which she shared what she gained from her experience. After publishing her book, she shared it with poor teens in her home town. Over 200+ people have read the book, which was discussed widely on social media. Newspapers and a variety of websites called and interviewed Batool about the project, and demand for the books has grown wildly.

Saudi Young Leaders Legacy International

Yomna’s project led to improvements at Prince Mohammad bin Fayd University’s daycare

Other examples include Sara’s project, which involved teaching school children about financial literacy. Mohammed created sports instruction YouTube videos to help children with hearing impairments learn sports techniques and stay physically active. Yomna provided hands-on training and new, more age-appropriate toys to the daycare center at her university to improve safety and learning.

Saudi Young Leader Batool Legacy International

Batool shows the book she wrote for youth about her US experience.

Participants were eligible for $500 “mini-grants” to help cover expenses. Funds were used for transportation, flyers, food for participants, recruitment of volunteers, and a range of other program costs.

For many of the Saudis, this was one of their first experiences launching an initiative and seeing it through to completion. It is rare for projects to pan out exactly as designed. As participants discovered, encountering challenges and obstacles and revising the plans is an important part of the learning process.

While few projects happen exactly as initially envisioned, the participants discovered that with dedication to their vision, perseverance, and taking action they were able to make an impact. At times their results exceeded their expectations or were completely unexpected. Even those who may not have met their original goals learned important lessons. Some students found in themselves leadership capacity they never knew they had, while others discovered that launching their own initiative is great training for whatever they may set out to accomplish.

As a result of participating in Legacy’s Saudi Young Leaders Exchange Program and the follow-on project process, participants developed their leadership skills, acquired knowledge and honed their practical skills through the observation of best practices. Many participants also discovered that believing in themselves and having the confidence to keep going in the face of obstacles is just as important.

To learn more about the upcoming 2016 program:

Saudi Young Leaders Exchange Program

To learn more about follow-on projects from other Legacy programs:

A Legacy of Human Rights

A Legacy of Helping the Poor

Attitudes are Changing in Kyrgyzstan

A Legacy of Healthy Children Saving Lives