September 27, 2016

YES Alumna Wins the Outstanding Youth Delegate Award

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Young woman wearing a headscarf and business suit smiling in the conference hall of the United Nations YES Abroad Alumna and 2016 United Nations Youth Assembly representative for Saudi Arabia Razan Al Aqil smiles for a photo in the UN conference hall.
Razan Al Aqil, an 18-year-old Saudi student and alumna of the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program, recently represented Saudi Arabia as a delegate to the 2016 United Nations Youth Assembly, in a session that focused on the role of youth in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. A second-year political science student at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, Razan is the first Saudi and first Arab woman to participate in the Youth Assembly at the UN. For Razan, winning the Outstanding Youth Delegate Award in front of 1,000 delegates from 85 countries was the highlight of her participation in the assembly, and a moment when she felt that her dream of making the world a better place was coming to fruition: “When I was on stage, I realized that I was truly walking in the footsteps of many great figures who made changes for mankind in the same spot I was standing on. But now it is my turn to follow their lead and start making that change I want to see in the world.”

Razan’s impressive commitment to community service helped distinguish her among the many other youth leaders participating in the assembly. She has volunteered over 250 hours of her time in her home city of Al Ahsa, in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. She has served on the board of the Al Ahsa Volunteering Team since 2012, and has actively participated in planning Saudi Aramco’s popular Cultural Program and iThra Knowledge Program. In the United States, Razan has dedicated over 100 hours of her time to volunteer work, and community service remains an important part of her life as a university student. She volunteers as a student ambassador and is currently serving as the Diversity Recruitment Coordinator at her university.

Razan strongly believes in the importance of community service and the positive difference youth can make through volunteering. Quoted in an article published in Arab News, Razan said of her volunteer work, “I like to volunteer and give back to my community. I believe that volunteering is the best way to show people that we can do anything. In volunteering there’s no ‘I,’ there’s always ‘us,’ and that’s what makes it special. Volunteering can create a kind of weird happiness in our hearts, and a spark of joy in our eyes.”

Razan participated in the YES program in 2014-2015, attending McDowell High School and living with a host family – Mrs. Tracey Widmann and Mr. Steven Leight – in Marion, NC. Reflecting on her exchange program experience, Razan stated, “Being a YES student exposed me to different cultures at a young age. It made me appreciate our differences in the world which brought us together as ‘global’ citizens of this planet. It influenced my personality and made me want to give more to the whole world through taking part in youth's political platforms wherever they were so I can raise my voice and speak up. My amazing American host family will forever be part of my life. They are a true definition of peace, love, and acceptance.” Razan’s late father, Farhan al Aqil was an IVLP alumnus who participated in a Water Resource Management program in 2013. Farhan’s hard work and his devotion in servicing his community will forever live on through his daughter Razan.