My home town – Aden, Yemen – has been engulfed by a series of crises over the past year that have negatively affected my people. We are not used to seeing young people carrying guns and showing so little tolerance for one another. Sadly, this is now the norm.

My concern for my community drew me to service, and in 2009 I established the Leaders Community Services Association in Aden along with several other young people. Our mission is to support our community and find ways to engage young people.

For nearly three years we have partnered in this mission with USAID and, in that time, I have come to believe that our commitments and our objectives are parallel. We both see the need for an integrated approach to addressing the many challenges faced by young Yemenis.  We must address these challenges strategically, and understand the root causes of my society’s struggles: unemployment, the large number of young people without job, and the fragmentation of traditional societal structures.

Early last year I joined a USAID workshop focused on developing life skills.  It opened my eyes to how much more can be done to empower and motivate young people to become active in their communities and got me thinking of different ways of bringing about community change.

I started thinking of new ways my association could target larger audiences. We turned to USAID’s Engaging Youth for a Stable Yemen program, and together we held a festival promoting peace and understanding in my community. With USAID’s help, we organized an event which encouraged youth to use their time wisely and discouraged them from carrying arms. We encouraged participation by hosting a concert featuring hip-hop and rap acts, and documentary films emphasizing constructive options for youth. The festival was the first of its kind in Aden and my peers loved it. My team learned that Aden youth are ready to engage and volunteer to benefit their community.

I was motivated by our success and USAID’s help pulling the event together to develop my skills as a community activist further. With USAID support, I pursued a three-month internship with the Creative People’s Solution Institute. I am now working with the Institute to help run training sessions on resolving community conflicts and disputes, which could reach more than 6,000 local youth.

Recently, I received a U.S. government grant to help 400 youth at the University of Aden’s schools of medicine, engineering, education, and arts become involved in their communities. Participants will receive life skills training, and will be asked to develop and implement ideas to improve their educational experience.

I am passionate about making improvements in my community, helping its members better understand each other, and creating a healthy environment for dialogue and tolerance. It is a labor of love that USAID and the American people are helping me to pursue.

Areej Haider is a 26-year-old community activist in Aden. She is a student at the University of Aden School of Medicine. Areej obtained a Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) fellowship in 2005 which launched her as a community activist. She is a founder and head of the Leaders Community Services LCP Association.