Iraqi Center for Dialogue hosts Iraqi youth in International Young Leaders Exchange Program

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Surrounded by the western art of Olaf Wieghorst at El Cajon’s Olaf Wieghorst Museum, on July 11, Iraqi exchange students participated in the International Young Leaders Exchange Program. Jawdat Alobedi, founder and CEO of the Iraqi Center for Dialogue, sponsored the two-day event Youth Leadership Program: Teamwork Foundations.

Surrounded by the western art of Olaf Wieghorst at El Cajon’s Olaf Wieghorst Museum, on July 11, Iraqi exchange students participated in the International Young Leaders Exchange Program. Jawdat Alobedi, founder and CEO of the Iraqi Center for Dialogue, sponsored the two-day event Youth Leadership Program: Teamwork Foundations.

“This allows the students to build and strengthen their leadership skills,” said Alobedi. He said Heidi Cnuff, diplomacy manger San Diego Diplomacy Council was the main coordinator working with him for two month to put this international exchange together in El Cajon.

“Working with her was a wonderful experience and I have learned new skills from the Diplomacy Council and the young leaders from here and Iraq,” he said.

On the first day of his event he asked 23-yeard-old UCSD graduate Riyam Arabo, CEO of Babylon Leads, to speak to the 10 Iraqi high school students about her life experiences. These 10 Iraqi students were paired with Iraqi American students from San Diego County. Activities included practicing effective communication skills, understanding small group dynamics, soccer and other team building exercises.

IYLEP, or the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program, brought these students on this trip from July 3-22, which kicked off in Vermont, came to San Diego County, and will go on to Washington, D.C.

San Diego Diplomacy Council Executive Director Fabienne Perlov said it is a co-sponsor of the Young Iraqi Leaders Exchange program in Washington, D.C., organizing workshops, training, field visits, home hospitality and events for 10 Iraqi youth who are coming from different parts of Iraq. The purpose is to engage them in dialogue and leadership team building between Iraqi and Iraqi American youth.

“We connect community and business members in San Diego with their counterparts around the world,” she said. “We do that through international, professional and cultural exchange programs. The Iraqi Young Leaders is an educational one but we also administer the International Visitor Leadership Program, which is a premier program sponsored by the State Department where leaders from around the world are selected by embassies in 130 countries and they come to the United States and San Diego to meet with their counterparts.”

Perlov said this build global understanding and discussions around common interests. “It can be environment, human rights, economic development, citizen safety, social justice, or public health. All global challenges,” she said.

When they go back to their country after these experiences she said they better understand the United States and they can become partners and allies in addressing global issues in their country, community and society.

“These Iraqi youth leaders have been carefully selected by our U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and brought to the United States on a four week exchange program,” she said. “They learn leadership, conflict resolution and community engagement. It is a life changing experience for them and let’s not forget that they are teenagers. They learn about themselves, their peers in Iraq and they come from so many cities in Iraq that represent different communities that are sometimes having conflict between each other. It is an opportunity for them to learn from each other.”

Perlov said it is mutually beneficial between the Iraqi and Iraqi American youth.

“Our objective is to break stereotypes and misconceptions,” she said. “They have an opportunity to think about what is their purpose as an Iraqi American in San Diego, the opportunities and challenges and vice versus. They learn about the situations of Iraqi youth in different communities in Iraq. Some are refugees and they learn what it means to be in that kind of situation. It gives them a perspective of what is going on in Iraq beyond the scope of the media and the daily news, but hearing it directly from our teenagers here is unique and enriching.”

Perlov said that the San Diego Diplomacy Council is celebrating 10 years of this exchange and that later this year, the students that have participated in the exchange will gather together in Baghdad, sharing experiences and how it has affected their lives since participating in the program. She said it will be the first time that these young leaders over the past 10 years will meet together and expects it to be an exceptional event and also a wonderful opportunity to see how the program has affected the young leaders that have participated.

San Diego Diplomacy Council handled the local program and partnered with ICD for the El Cajon two-day leadership section.

Graduate student at U.S.D, Kurt Kirkman, with the San Diego Diplomacy Council, paired with ICD to coordinate this segment of the schedule. Kirkman also helped coordinate trips to the San Diego Zoo, a visit to San Diego’s newest park Civita, a soccer game, and a multitude of other formal and informal activities.

“I heard two or three students, on multiple occasions, that said this was the best day of their lives,” said IYLEP tour coordinator, Chloe Walton. “They come from all over Iraq.”

Riyam Arabo, who was asked a number of questions from the students during her presentation said, “They were asking about project funding and planning for IDP’s in Iraq.” IDP stands for internally displaced person(s). “I talked to them about compromise between east and west cultures.” 

IYLEP adult chaperone, Maitham Al Hamad said, “They are eager to know everything about America” during a lunch break with food that was provided by Broadway Farmer Market. I.C.D. added to their knowledge with this two-day program.

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