Norman Vezi is a YES Programme alumni living in KwaZulu-Natal. Here he writes about how he has learned that changing a community in a positive way does not necessarily require someone to be rich and have a lot of equipment; but that it just takes one person or a group of individuals with ideas that can be put into action.

My name is Norman Vezi, an Alumni from South Africa who did his exchange programme during the year 2010-2011. I have learned that it is possible to change the world and we, as youngsters, are the ones who can easily make this happen – because we are living in a world where we see challenges in each and every day and, as Alumni, we have all the knowledge and understanding of how we can tackle challenges and improve situations. Right now I would like to share my story of the project which I am currently working on here in South Africa.

Growing up in a poor area which had limitations on learning facilities, I came up with an idea which is aimed at helping my community, especially the young ones who are still studying and preparing themselves for the world. After attending an Ashoka workshop for Alumni, which was held in Washington DC in 2013, I was given a chance to discuss my solution to the challenge of learning and having insufficient equipment for studying. I came up with the idea of making a library in my community since there isn’t a library and students have to pay large amounts in bus fares to get to the library situated in town. Another reason was that I also grew up in my community not being exposed to reading and knowing about things which are happening around us and in the world at large due to the situation of not having a library in the community.

After receiving the funds and approval for my project, I then asked the chief and leaders in my community if I could use one room of the community building since it is hardly used and it is a great central place to locate the library. The chief and the people in charge were very happy to hear of such an idea and they gave me the go-ahead. And work began.

My host mom in the USA has been really helpful by getting me the books which are going to be inside the library and, while my host mom and her friends were working on that, I started with the buying and installing of wall bands inside the room. We had challenges at first, due to there being no electricity in my community, but with access to a generator we were able to use some electrical equipment to put up the wall bands and wall brackets. The room had been locked and not used for quite a while so I had to fix the door locks and also do some cleaning inside such as painting and cleaning the floor.

After doing lots of measurements and making decisions on how and where to put shelving, we finally got that part figured out and purchased the shelves. Since this is a project touching everyone in my community and outside, I decided to have an open house for the library which was on the 13th of December 2014 and there were lots of activities, including poems recited by the young ones, speeches, cultural activities etc. just to bring fun to the day and show the adults what their young ones are capable of doing so that they can support them more in their educational careers.

Doing this project has been very helpful to me, because it has made my vision bigger and trained me in how to be a responsible young man, but most importantly it has brought a smile to my community and has allowed people to see a sign of development in my community. It has been challenging for me at times, since I am studying and not in my community most of the time, but all that has been under control.

I just want to thank AFS for giving me, my community and my nation such an amazing opportunity which will stay forever. I also encourage all of the Alumni out there and other participants to look at what projects may be needed in their own communities.

Norman Vezi