Category Archives: Fellows Blog

A Journey of Hellos and Goodbyes

I remember Abraham Maslow’s quote that says “In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.” The choices we make put us on a pathway to find out who we are, where we came from, and why we are here. Months ago, I decided to choose to step forward, to take the risk and embark on a new journey. I feel very fortunate to have been able to embark on the PFP journey. Although we started in mid-October, it seems like it only began yesterday but at the same time, I believe we have achieved a lot.

Leaving family, friends, and jobs behind for 5 weeks is not an easy thing. Although it is not my first time in the US, I feel I’m discovering a new place that I have never encountered. As I sat down and began to write my blog, I started recalling all unforgettable memories, the amazing people I met and unbreakable friendships I made.

BEGINNING: I remember the first time the 16 young professionals from two different countries met in the airport. Each one of us had some ideas or expectations of the others. What a warm and wonderful welcome each one gave the other! We met with hello—salaam—wide smiles, and open arms.

ENDING: I also remember the last time the 16 met in the hotel’s lobby and the airport to say goodbye to each other. With tearful and heavy hearts we said goodbye; knowing that we may not see each other again altogether. We left saying Ma’a salaama—goodbye—smiles filled with tears, and open arms.

IN BETWEEN: We didn’t only share apartments but we shared lives. There are some moments that I can never forget; we have shared stories, laughter, tears, jokes, shopping, cleaning and cooking. I was inspired by each and every one; they taught me resilience, hard work, commitment and having fun amidst all of the stress. I learned that getting sick can be one of the most difficult thing you can face while you are away from home but the good thing is that you will find people who take care of you, and who stay up all night to check on. I learned that it takes time to adapt and adjust to new life style and new work environment. 

‘A picture is worth a thousand words’? DEFINITELY! And here are a few memories:

Panel discussion at Wesley seminary


Home-staying

Graduation Ceremony

Congress

 

The program definitely doesn’t end here but rather, it is a new beginning to a new phase. Finally I would like to say THANK YOU to Legacy International, our host organizations and host families. Thank you for opening your doors, your homes and your hearts to each of us. And thank you for making our experience so memorable.

Author: Fatma Younis

Fatma is a development specialist with more than seven years of experience. In her role, she monitors all project activities and progress, recommends further improvement of frame work, and develops monitoring and impact indicators for overall success. She is also the founder and president of the Global Network of Young Leaders (GNYL), community service coordinator of the Alexandria Chapter at AFS Egypt, and co-organizer and board member of TEDxYouth@Alexandria.

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Working in a Healthy, Professional and Friendly environment – Working in Serve DC

Getting an email saying that I have been accepted in the Professional Fellows Program, a lot of excitement, preparing for the visa appointment, attending orientation, taking online courses, packing for travel, a lot of excitement again, long transit, and finally arriving to the US and meeting with beautiful coordinators. This is the journey before starting the Professional Fellows Program, which is full of excitements, components, ups and downs and plenty of learning opportunities.

The Professional Fellows Program is an exchange program sponsored by the U.S. State Department and organized by Legacy International. The program has several components between placing fellows in host organization for 3 weeks, getting trainings and sessions, attending and organizing several events to get exposed to the civil society context in the U.S. and implementing follow on projects in the Fellows’ countries.

I would like to shed light on the internship component which is, for me, one of the most important components of the program. My host organization is Serve DC, The Mayor’s Office on Volunteerism. The main mission of Serve DC, as per my understanding, is creating the culture of volunteerism through encouraging more young people to serve and to volunteer as well as encouraging more NGOs to recruit volunteers. It is all about building social capital where each citizen in the community has the social responsibility to help the other people around them.

What attracted me first when I came to the organization is that the concept of service is embedded internally before externally. The office typically applies what it preaches. In the preparation for one of their biggest annual conferences, you can see all the people in the office working as in a hive to make this event happen and succeed, regardless of each one’s position. You can see a PhD holder folding chairs, directors serving food, etc…

One of the things also that attracted me when I joined Serve DC, is their willingness to help you and to provide you with a learning opportunity inside the place. The Serve DC team truly believes that the benefit should be one that is two ways. They always ask me about what I want to learn. They helped me a lot consolidating my follow on project which I am going to implement when I am back home.

In Serve DC, I had a huge learning opportunity not only from preparing for and attending some events, but also from having access to very useful resources from the website of Corporation for National and Community Service, which also was an intellectual dose on how to implement and evaluate community service projects.

My experience in Serve DC was not only fulfilling on a professional level, but also on a personal level. I was engaged with the team very quickly. The office has an amazing mixture between professionalism and friendship.

I am delighted to be part of the Professional Fellows Program that provided me with the opportunity to work in and to know Serve DC. The credit, of course, goes to Legacy International for the amazing organization. I am very grateful, specifically, to be part of the Algerian and Egyptian delegation. I am coming back to Egypt full of energy and life lasting friendships.


Author: Aya Sabry

Aya is a social sector expert having spent more than ten years working in voluntary and professional capacities. She is also part of a global network of fellows through her current role as a fellowship representative with the leading social investment organization Ashoka at the Arab World division. Aya is planning to work for a grassroots organization mobilizing and doing meaningful work on the ground. She hopes to work with NGOs and incubators to expand her network of professionals to achieve a wider scope for her intended work. 

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Evolution Not Revolution

“…In other words, in a way that is profoundly at war with our founding ideals, poverty breeds deeper poverty; lack of educational achievement breeds deeper academic failure; and broken families are the surest predictor of more broken families in the next generation and the generation beyond that.

This is a sentence of unequal opportunity for all poor Americans, no matter the color of their skin. It is a generational sentence for 7 out of 10 children who will remain at the bottom of the income scale

America’s children are our children, our responsibility, not someone else’s. Can you really accept an America in which your little girl has just a one in five chance of being able to read well, or a 9 in 100 chance to graduate from college? Can you really demand heroism as a precondition of success…?” – Parts of a speech of Senator Michael Bennet/March 2015

 America is not that great of a country in terms of primary and middle school education, although its universities rank among the top best ones in the world. In his speech on Inequality and Education, Senator Michael Benet has highlighted this big gap that astonished me. Children in the USA are also facing major problems. Children and their challenges are present a lot in the formal speech of politicians. During our visit to the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress (FMC), one of the former members made frequent reference to his daughter of 11 years old and how he is still very positive and believes the future is brighter for her.

The American system or policy is unique and open to all changes, it is a system that can give opportunities and that can give birth to lot of controversies. It is a system that keeps its values and, in the name of democracy, has brought both the first African-American man to the presidency, which has never been the case before, even in the biggest, oldest democracies in Europe, who was directly followed by a new president who seems to be undermining everything the previous administration and even the international institutions stood for

I attended this year’s “I’ll Be There” Award where the DC High School Walk-Out leaders were rewarded for organizing a District-wide walk-out for students to show youth power and values after the 2016 presidential election. It may be normal to some extent, as the amazing story behind this act was a teacher – a respectful lady who has given a lot of her time to work with students and who set up a human rights club years ago. Human rights, or any kind of development education, can lead to change and awaken people. The walk-out was started by five high school kids on social media and reached thousands on the streets – with the intention to express solidarity and involvement in creating one, united, America. Positive and pacific change starts there.

During his speech on the opening day, Mr. Rash reminded us that, “…we need evolution not a revolution…” and that the key to accomplishing this is education. Human rights education, sustainable development education, peace education…or what we call development education.

The teacher who inspired these young people could be a hero, as she represents the brighter side of education in US; just imagine how many heroes are or could be among us, if they can bring this sparkle to young people: a sparkle of hope, commitment, leadership and active citizenship. These young people know their duties. Moreover, they act positively to take their rights and express their thoughts. Like The Godfather movie illustrates, to a certain extent, the leadership skills that a school (education) can plant and enhance in students makes them the leaders of tomorrow.

Author: Abdallah Khazene

Abdallah is an organization executive serving as the President for Arc en Ciel. Part of his role is to offer quality training to staff in addition to website updates, project development, management, and task delegation. Abdallah believes that in order to better respect the environment there needs to be access to education about how it works.

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The Challenge of a Moral Revolution

If I have to summarize what I’m living now in the Professional Fellowship Program, the word would be “Challenge.”

The same challenge was raised by the Algerian youth 63 years ago, on the 1st day of November 1954, when they wrote history, a history in which young people moved from the idea to the field, after planning and preparing for the Algerian liberation revolution, and taking the independence after 137 years of French colonialism.

And here I am today, in Washington DC, following these young people in different circumstances, in a different challenge. They made one of the greatest revolutions of the 20th century, and today it is our turn to make one of the greatest revolutions of the 21st century.

But today’s revolution is a revolution of minds, a revolution of hearts, a moral revolution. Today our enemy is not France, our enemy today is us, and we will not move forward unless we take our independence from our ignorance, by science, and actions.

This is how I see this experience: as a responsibility. Just as the young people of Algeria have already done, we must also take on the challenge by asking for knowledge, exchanging experiences, cultures, science, and anything that brings us to the development and positive change in our societies through calm and peace.

Regardless of responsibility, my presence here in the US capital gives me the opportunity to learn more about myself and to know what my challenges are. I realize that these challenges are essential if we aim to make our society and our world a better place. The first of these challenges are the values, which are intrinsic rather than outward. We may not see them if they are shown only by those who carry them, but their impact is great. This is what we should have. If we want to develop our societies, we should do so by noble human values. Respect, humility, gratitude, sincerity and seriousness, these values (and others), give us the insight to build and see a better world.

The second of these challenges is the union between us. I have learned here that teamwork and unity to achieve the common goal, is one of the most important keys to success, by working with my colleagues from Algeria and Egypt. This union brings us beyond what we aspire to, especially when the values are available.

The third challenge is patience and endurance. The path of change is not easy, it is a lot of pressure, difficulties, and barriers, and achieving the goals requires the persistence of will and motivation, until the end. Many start on the path of development and change, but few are those who continue to the end.

The fourth challenge is to believe in the message we carry. What heritage do we want to leave in this world? Our impact? Our legacy? If we know the content of this message that we want to convey to our society and to the world, we must believe in it, and work on its realization on the ground, with all devotion and action.

The fifth and last of these challenges is the planning and implementation, and this does not work without the others. That we plan without applying, this is theoretical, and that we apply without planning, this is practical, and not one of them has any benefit without the other so we have to learn more and more about planning. This is what we’re doing the most in PFP, so we can implement later and measure and evaluate the reach of our goals.

These are the challenges that I’m living here in the Professional Fellowship Program by Legacy International and the State Department, with my dear friends and colleagues from Egypt and Algeria. These are the same challenges we are living in our communities, and that have been lived by all the youth of the region, which raised the slogan of development and positive change. Young people raise the banner of humanity and effective citizenship, who carry values and seek to achieve goals by having patience to reach them no matter how difficult it is, because they believe in the message they hold and work on its planning and application on the ground.

Challenge is the word that describes me the most in this experience.

Author: Yacine Mitiche

Yacine is an associative activist, who has worked many years in civil society on social development projects. In addition to his studies and internship experiences in national energy societies and his personal experiences in sports. Currently, he has embarked on the world of entrepreneurship, in the field of sport, is a co-founder of the start-up SPART.DZ, which seeks to promote sport as an asset of positive change. Yacine recognizes the power of youth. Specifically, the role they can play in the sustainable development of Algerian society. 

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My Dream Has Wings

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it” – Paulo Coelho.

Being here is not coincidental, it is part of our dreams that we believe in, which took wings and flew—through Legacy—to discover each other and exchange experiences.

We, the Algerian and Egyptian delegations, belong to North Africa where we share similar geography, close history and the same challenges in each society.

Most of us left our positions and stable jobs in government, shifted our careers to serve our communities, started as volunteers working in the streets with people to feel their dreams and hopes, which became part of our dreams.

I believe in signs and since the first day of our orientation session, I recognized that every one of us has a dream with deep responsibility towards our communities. During the first tour on the way to the Lincoln Memorial, the sign became clear, when I noticed Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote “I have a Dream.”

We have dreams for better education, development, empowerment, culture and art, justice and equality, and so on. In the second week of the program with Mike and Maryna, we started to identify the accurate steps to organize the vision of our dreams and how to achieve them. Mike taught us the nicest method to measure the reality and impact of our dreams through the future.

Now, we have recognized that the biggest dream is changing ourselves, believing in our power to help the people in our countries.

Personally, my dream is dedicating my position and knowledge in educating people to respect their heritage and appreciate their identity through museums. Signs are following me every day during my visit to different museums through my fellowship, which emphasized the fact that my dream will become true.

My dream has wings and is flying freely.

Author: Nagwa Bakr

Nagwa focuses on creating cultural awareness through museum exhibitions and heritage sites. Her work in inviting the public to see local culture and heritage crafts strives to propel public discussion of history. She is also working on providing opportunities for women to build careers deriving from their technical skills in craft making. 

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Perfect Strangers

Have you ever felt this strong sensation when you meet somebody for the first time as if you have known them forever? Like love … But it’s not.

Sometimes life puts in your way perfect strangers who become, day after day, an inseparable part of your life.

Before starting this experience, I admit that I was quite worried about meeting new people from different countries with different mentalities, religions, and traditions. Especially that I would be the only Algerian woman in the PFP Fall delegation, but then, the story began!

I first met these strangers at the airport, we spent 8 hours on the same plane. It was not easy at all, yet it allowed us to live a unique experience together supporting and taking care of each other, although we met like an hour before.

Times passed by and we started sharing many things: we worked together, we shopped together, we got lost together, we ate together, and we cried together too. We were united. Progressively, this familiarity transformed into this strong relationship that now qualifies as a “Friendship”!  

These perfect strangers made my experience funnier and more interesting. They made it so great it wouldn’t have been the same without them.

We came to DC as two separate groups, and we will go back home as a team. Nothing is more precious than this! I will never forget all the wonderful moment spent with these great people.

 

Author: Lila Romeili

Lila specializes in communication, events, and digital marketing. Lila is determined to not only raise awareness for women but to also be a person of change. She hopes to continue and elevate the work already being done in Algerian society and keep supporting women who are marginalized and mistreated. Her goal is that through a series of workshops and events about a variety of women’s issues, women will become more educated and confident in themselves to reach their personal goals.

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Serving Youth from Algeria to America

My name is Hamza Berrouane and I am from beautiful Algeria. In my country, I work in civic society and the focus of all my projects and activities is youth development, so I consider myself very lucky to be placed in an organization that shares the same goals and focuses like “Youth Service America.” I am eager to work at YSA, because not only does it helps young people to take charge and be the change that they want to see in their communities, but also it will me teach a lot by showing me how things are done in America and I will learn new approaches and ideas on how to deal with youth problems. What I love the most about my work is that what I give to YSA, I get back in support from YSA’s staff.

Coming to this program, I was aware that it would be a great learning experience for me, but what I didn’t expect is the human connections that I have already made in America.

Being part of this amazing group of people from my home country Algeria and Egypt, who are all working toward a society where young people are respected, valued, their voices are heard and where they are supported to realize their maximum potential now and in the future; spending the time with this group has been so inspiring. It showed me that there is still hope for our youth and that change is coming. On a personal level, I am so proud to say that I gained amazing friendships with people that I would’ve never met elsewhere.

The American hospitality was also a highlight for me; everybody is helpful from the staff of Legacy International to the staff of the organization that I’m placed in – “Youth Service America.”

I still have more than three weeks to experience and explore the country and the culture. And I can’t wait to go back to my country to share the things that I learned here with my community, to benefit as many people as possible.

Author: Hamza Berrouane

Hamza is an organizational and events planning professional having worked extensively with events, conferences, and camps. Besides his membership involvement, he is the founder and manager of HB.Events, a cultural events planning company. Hamza’s work in this field is derived from her creativity and passion for culture and art. Throughout his work with events planning company he has organized and conceptualized many events including TEDx, Algerian youth camps, Algerian youth conferences, and many others. 

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The Power of Peer Learning

I always have in mind Helen Keller’s quote “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much” and I truly believe that real change does not happen with one person, or one organization, but that it’s a collective effort.

For some time I have been thinking about my work, on the impact that we’re doing and how it can be improved, and participating in the Professional Fellows program organized by Legacy International is providing me with a valuable chance to reflect on this and learn how to magnify the positive outcomes.

The program is offering many learning spaces, such as trainings, hands-on work experience in an American organization, coaching on longer-term professional goals and learning from Peer Fellows.

Although all the learning spaces are useful in their own ways, the part I feel I’m most interested in is Peer-learning: coming with 15 other fellows from Egypt and Algeria, understanding their projects, ideas, and the challenges faced by them in their own contexts, how they overcome these challenges and learning from them about best practices has been very enriching for me.

The Peer-learning spaces in the program are countless. Informal learning spaces from living together and being deeply involved in each other’s lives, and the deep conversations we have while we’re commuting to work, to more formal learning spaces, such as the collective brainstorming meetings we have to develop and consolidate our follow-on projects that we’re planning on implementing in our countries, and the critical questions that everyone asks in the training which reflects their massive experience.

The Peer-learning concept developed in the program has had many effects on me as a participant, not only did it helped me gain knowledge on many topics and fields, but also helped me develop my interpersonal skills, such as learning to work in teams, critical thinking, communication and problem solving skills.

The examples of Peer-learning are limitless. The dedication of my Egyptian and Algerian colleagues helped develop my idea for the follow-on project. I benefited a lot from others working on social entrepreneurship by engaging in critical conversations on the common challenges we have been facing and learning from their experiences.

This wouldn’t have happened without the incredible work that the Legacy International team has been doing. They are not only facilitating the program, they are part of the learning journey, providing us with the platform to optimize our experience of never-ending knowledge.

Author: Lobna Elewa

Lobna has spent years working in civil society. Through her work, she has built a strong network of social entrepreneurs, start-ups, and volunteers from all over Egypt increasing her knowledge on various development sectors. Lobna believes in developing the skills and capacities of professionals working on entrepreneurship programs. She strongly believes that through supporting social innovators for the MENA region, society will see a reduction in poverty, inequality, unemployment, health risks, and women’s disparities. 

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The Human Side of You is Stronger

“Algeria and Egypt had their fair share of conflict back in the 70’s and even in the late 2000’s. The story, for both conflicts, was about soccer—something shameful for both nations. Two of the greatest and most ancient civilizations in the world fighting over a ball of fancy rubber and leather. And the worst thing about it was that they were only supporters and not directly concerned.

In the early 70’s, Algeria and Egypt fought back to back in the war of October. Algeria was not even as near to the conflict as Egypt was but still had its sister’s back against the enemy—whoever that enemy was. Further back in history, in the late 50’s, the very first Algerian Temporary Government was established and the announcement was on the Egyptian National Radio. Was Egypt concerned or directly involved? No. Yet, Egypt stood with Algeria and supported that government around the world.

I know that you might think that this is a history lesson; it is not. This is only to show that these two great nations share much more than pointless conflicts about a pointless matter that, in its essence, is supposed to bring people of the world together and unite them. They share honorable values, sacrifices, struggles, martyrs, alliances, and more… They share history.

Professional Fellows Program participants from Algeria and Egypt. Fall 2017

This is my first week within this great group of amazing people from at least 3 countries; Algeria, Egypt and the USA, and believe me when I say that the stereotypes are already broken. What people hear about important matters is not necessarily true, even false much of the time. This is my story with the Algerian and Egyptian fall delegation of the Professional Fellows Program hosted by Legacy International in Washington, D.C.

I have been with the Egyptian delegation for a week now, and they are some of the nicest international people I have ever met. Mohamed’s positive attitude, Fatma’s smile, Basma’s kindness, May’s genuineness, Nagwa’s strength, Lobna’s humor, John’s honesty, Hossein’s calmness and zen attitude, Marwa’s spontaneity and strong will, and Aya’s comprehensiveness… These things make each and every member of the Egyptian delegation, a particularly special person without whom the experience would be really different and probably not the same.

This is where it gets sad so brace yourselves. Even though we, Algerians and Egyptians alike, know that the so-called conflict was made up by some people that had interest in that happening, we still had this pre-programmed idea of what the contact would be like, some of us were even warned about getting in contact with each other and were told to avoid talking about certain matters because that would probably lead to violence. The sad thing is that Algeria and Egypt are only a few thousand miles away from each other, a few hours flight separates us and we waited until reaching the United States to unite under one roof to get rid of the built-in stereotypes.

I mentioned above three countries and I have been talking about only two, I haven’t forgotten our American friends and their help. Maryna’s constant happy attitude and positive energy, Mike’s leadership and guidance, Atefeh’s extreme kindness and Mr. Rash’s young spirit and humorous attitude. If I had to go back in time and change something in my life, I would just leave it the way it is because that is what lead me to meet these people and I am grateful to everyone involved in making this program a reality.

If I had one message to deliver to youth in the North Africa region then I would simply say: Whoever you are, reading this message, make sure that the human side of you is stronger than the patriot because a few centuries ago, the borders did not exist and a few million years ago, the continents were all one.”

Author: Yasser Abdesselam

Yasser, is persistent on leaving his mark working to elevate youth issues to the forefront of public discourse. Yasser wanted to change the approach to education. As a result, he challenged his students to go further and provided them with resources to suit their needs. 

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Fall Fellows Learn Lessons

For seven years, Legacy International  has administered the Professional Fellows Program (PFP) that brings leaders in the fields of civic engagement, NGO management, women and youth empowerment and entrepreneurship from Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and Algeria to the United States to broaden their professional expertise and create the groundwork for further international cooperation and world development.

This fall 16 fellows with strong leadership skills from Algeria and Egypt joined PFP. They grew professionally and personally during their fellowship in various non-profit organizations and companies in Washington DC, being exposed to the management, fundraising and project coordination process.

Fellows learned a lot from and with their host organization but most important, they made a significant impact on organizations’ work and on-going projects. For instance, Sarah Romeili, who had fellowship with Congressional Hunger Center, has had her research published and presented at the Annual Board Meeting. Eman Ezat, hosted by KABOOM, delivered a lecture about human rights in a high school and assisted in building a new playground in poor areas in Baltimore. Heba Ghannam, who was hosted by TechChange, was an important part of the panel discussion in the Italian embassy on Digital Diplomacy. Many fellows bonded tightly with their host organizations and established a lasting partnership.

Fellows also had a great opportunity to experience American warm hospitality, and American traditions and customs during their time with American families. One of the fellows mentioned that it was one of the best time during the program, as she felt like she was at home, with her own parents.

At the conclusion of the program, a 3-day Professional Fellows Congress was held in Washington DC gathering more than 200 fellows from all around the world to engage in important discussions and provide opportunities for networking and establishing strong cooperation and partnerships in the future.

During PFP fellows developed and presented their projects aimed to serve the needs of  their communities. Legacy will be providing more information about the Fellows’ Follow on projects during their implementations.

Read More: Enjoy the PFP Fellows Blog.