Rachel (front) with YES Students

“Being an Alumni Instructor was the best thing that I have ever done in my life,” said former YES student, Rachel Kazungu. The 19-year-old played a major role in teaching at the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program, during orientation in Washington D.C.

After a year in America as a KL-YES student, it only seemed natural to put her leadership skills to use at orientation for newly arriving YES students. Kazungu applied to be an Alumni Instructor because she “thought that it was a good opportunity for me to work with people from different nations.”

Kazungu’s five-week stay, which lasted from July 25 through Aug. 28, began with a week of training. She said, ”At first I was so nervous seeing all the American Councils staff members.” After working with them and contributing her own ideas, Kazungu began to settle in. Eventually, she learned the logistics and acquired all the tools necessary to run orientation and make sure that the arrival and departure of students ran smoothly. Throughout the remaining four weeks, groups of 120 students from thirty-nine different countries cycled through her site.

Rachel with her YES Students for the week

“The job taught me how to work as a team, especially when I had to team-teach during orientation,” said Kazungu. Being an Alumni Instructor also taught her how to work with a group as if they were one big family. Looking back at her experience, Kazungu said, “We were cooperating hand in hand, not thinking about where we came from, but by thinking of who we are.” The American Councils staff members worked with Kazungu and helped her engage with many people of different ages.

Throughout her stay in Washington D.C., her experience as an Alumni Instructor aided Kazungu in understanding the importance of knowing people from different places and positions, as well as taught her how to be more organized and set up systems that works for everyone. Being a leader was extremely motivating for Kazungu. She taught the students that they needed to teach, interact, explore, share, and gain ties with others during their stay in the United States. Post-orientation, Kazungu said, “I feel that I am strong and can empower others to do positive things.”

Rachel with current YES Students

Although Kazunga was taught about group work and responsibility during her five-week stay, this was not her first role as a leader; she overtook the role of class leader at school in her hometown of Musoma, Tanzania. At her secondary school, Kazungu says that she “was a peer educator in a life skills class where I motivated a group on dealing with positive movements such as women empowerment, HIV/AIDS, and Malaria.” This program is called, “TUSEME!” meaning, “Speak up!”

Kazungu often expresses her appreciation for IRIS and the KL-YES Program for all of her opportunities in America. Dancing and music are two of her passions, which help her get to know people. She said, “I made a lot of friends here because of dance. The beat is in my blood. People were surprised! I love meeting new people and making friends, especially from different countries.” While listening to her speak about her experiences in different countries, it is clear that Kazungu has caught the travel bug. She said, “I have been traveling since I was 15, and since then I wish to travel everywhere.”

Rachel with YES Students from across the globe

For now, Kazungu is happy staying with her original host family in Fort Madison, Ia. She spends her time volunteering at Richardson Elementary School, attending Rotary International Club meetings, helping the youth of the First United Methodist Church, and speaking at events for the Kiwanis and Lions Club. In less than a month, she will return to Tanzania to figure out her financing for school. With help from the Rotary Club, she would like to raise enough money to attend Southeastern Iowa Community College in West Burlington, Ia. and study international relations.

Kazungu’s time with IRIS and her experience as a KL-YES student has inspired her dream in returning to East African countries, such as Uganda, to help those in need. She said, “I do feel there’s a lot of countries in Africa with people who need experience and skills for higher education. I feel they need someone to encourage education, especially in women.” Kazungu believes that this person can be her. She says, “I want to share my life with other people. I want kids to see themselves in me.” While hoping that young Africans will walk in her footsteps, Kazungu concludes her time in America with a few words of wisdom: “In life, we all depend on one another.”

About the YES Program:

The Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program is a scholarship program created in 2002 by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).

By bringing Tanzanian and Nigerian youth to America, IRIS and the ECA has developed a way to help young Africans understand that Christians and Muslims can live in peace, respect one another’s religion, and develop common goals for community improvement in their home countries. The program focuses on countries with significant Muslim populations, to provide an opportunity to stimulate interactions between East and West Africa.

Since becoming affiliated with the KL-YES Program in 2003, IRIS has made it possible for more than 230 African students to live with a host family and study in Iowa for a year. During their time in Iowa, students engage in volunteer service and participate in activities to learn about American society, acquire leadership skills, and help educate Americans about their country and culture.

For more information on the KL-YES Program, click here .

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