Monday, July 23, 2012

Iraqi High School Students Experience American Life, Set Goals for Involvement Through State Department Program

From exploring the Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh to learning how to line dance from senior citizens, 10 Iraqi high school students and their mentor, participating in the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program, gained many distinct cultural experiences during their time in Pittsburgh.

Iraqi students meeting
with Benjamin Walker
of ExperiLearn LLC
GlobalPittsburgh arranged a 10-day program for the group sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The students’ experiences served as inspiration for their ideas about diversity, which led to their conceptualization of problems in their home communities and the development of potential solutions to those challenges.

Common problems in the home communities in Iraq included water safety, quality of infrastructure, literacy rates, lack of electricity, quality of food and agricultural development, activities to occupy youth, littering and dirtiness, quality of pharmacies, health awareness issues, recycling, and lack of hospitals and healthcare.

During a seminar led by Benjamin Walker of ExperiLearn LLC, the students moved from discussing the problems to brainstorming solutions and ways that they could get involved themselves to bring about change in their communities.

The students developed a range of attainable goals, including building public libraries; building youth centers; raising breast cancer awareness; putting in a system to stop children from smoking; improving the quality of pharmacies; starting community clean-up initiatives; campaigning to revitalize the agricultural sector to improve food quality; increasing recycling; and improving healthcare and adding to the number of hospitals.

When the students expressed doubt over whether they had the power to effect these changes, Walker advised them to start small-scale, telling them that they could make a difference by finding organizations and politicians that are trying to achieve their goals and connecting and networking with them.

He also encouraged them to use their differences to their advantage by working together rather than letting differences divide them, and by the end of the discussion, the students felt enthusiastic about going back to Iraq and initiating the changes they want to see in their communities.

CLICK HERE to view more photos (gallery will open in a new window).

The students also met with Adriana Dobrzycka and Melanie Harrington of Vibrant Pittsburgh, toured the Alcoa Foundation Hall of American Indians at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, engaged in an informal discussion with teens facilitated by LeeAnn Anna, Teen Services Coordinator for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, toured Avonworth High School, met with seniors participating in Vintage Senior Services activities (including soul line dancing), made music CDs at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild with Jeff Guerrero, toured Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens and met Phipps high school interns, visited the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, went bowling with their host families, enjoyed a potluck picnic with their hosts and GlobalPittsburgh staff members, and spent an evening at Kennywood.  

- Veronica Contin

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