Today, more than 6,000 alumni from 45 countries in every region of the world are celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program and paying tribute to the program's founders: the late Senator Ted Kennedy and Senator Richard Lugar. Their vision in the aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attacks in the United States was to build bridges between Americans and young people in countries with significant Muslim populations. Now in its tenth year, that's exactly what American and international students are doing through the YES and YES Abroad programs.
The YES program provides scholarships to almost 900 young people (ages 15-18) a year from countries with significant Muslim populations to experience a year in the United States living with an American host family, attending high schools, and becoming involved in American communities. Students undergo an extremely competitive and rigorous, merit-based application process. During their stay, students engage with their American communities, share their cultures, develop leadership skills, and learn about American society, spirit, and values. Approximately 65 American high school students have the same experience in select YES countries.
The facts are impressive. More than 10,000 American families in 2,400 U.S. towns in every state and Washington D.C. have been involved in hosting and supporting YES students. This year alone, 547 high schools are hosting YES students. YES students have completed over 340,000 hours of community service, while almost 250 YES students this year alone earned certificates for performing over 100 hours of volunteer service in their U.S. host communities. The volunteer spirit does not stop when the students return home from their exchange. Alumni are acting on what they learned on their YES exchange and making a difference in their communities and in our world by serving as mentors to and tutoring children, teaching English, promoting environmental conservation awareness, starting libraries, adopting grandparents, setting up basic literacy and computer centers, and starring in a top-rated local reality TV series.
Always innovating, YES launched ECA's first Youth TechCamps in Washington D.C., Bangladesh, and Pakistan and trained almost 100 YES alumni in effective ways to use social media and mobile technologies to encourage civic responsibility and action. YES TechCamp alumni in Pakistan inspire youth around the world to unite in dialogue around global causes @Youth Voices International.
Senator Lugar was right when he said, "I have no doubt...that these students are destined to take on many more leadership opportunities and...in their homelands will offer significant service to people and this will be a celebration of the YES program." Empowered by the YES program and supported by their biggest fans -- host families, host schools, host communities, peers, and program staff -- YES students represent diplomacy at its best.