Iraqi and American students visit Portland to learn about social justice and youth activism
News | International Visitors
On Saturday, July 20, a group of Iraqi and American students arrived in Portland as part of the U.S. Department of State's Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP). During the four-week program, the seven Iraqi students and two American students visited Vermont, Oregon, and Washington D.C, along with their Iraqi mentor. While in Portland, they met with local and regional organizations to discuss social justice and youth activism. Their 12-day visit to Oregon took them to Western Oregon University to participate in the leadership camp of the Oregon Association of Student Councils, the Mercy Corps Action Center to discuss social media and fundraising, Zenger Farm for an afternoon workparty, and much more. They had a chance to experience the best of Oregon hospitality while staying with host families.
One of their first stops was at the Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC) where the students were given a tour of the space, met people that worked there, learned about zines, and had the opportunity to make a zine of their own. A.M. O’Malley, Program Coordinator at IPRC, explained, “A zine is a self-made publication made by one or a small group of people for passion and not for profit. Today, we are educating them about independent media and what we do here in terms of empowering people.” While at IPRC, the students learned about the importance of being able to create and tell their own stories. “Media literacy is important because it teaches us how to deconstruct the messages that are fed to us,” said O’Malley.
At the beginning of their second week in Portland, the students headed to the Mercy Corps Action Center to take part in a workshop about fundraising and social media, and how they might utilize these tools to create change in their communities. Andi Curry, Education Officer at the Action Center, said, "Our goal was that they'd leave here with some understanding of how to raise awareness about their cause, whether they were raising money for it or not." In its work, Mercy Corps takes a community-based approach, emphasizing that change is most effective when initiated from within. Curry described the potential of this approach with the IYLEP students: "The Action Center is all about taking that same approach and equipping students with those idea, to be able to make a difference in their community, whether it's here in Portland or in Iraq. We're all about giving the students tools that they can use make that difference in their community."
At the conclusion of their visit to Portland, the students had concrete ideas about how to apply the skills they learned in their communities. Hasan al-Gamal said, “I have a lot of ideas in my mind, I want to do so many things. For example, our government doesn’t have recycling. In a country that contains 18 states, that’s a lot of waste. They mostly take the garbage, put it in a pit and ignite it on fire, which generates negative gases that affect health and the environment. I want to notify them about the importance of recycling projects.”
The students also described the experience of meeting people from various organizations in Portland. “When we met with the people and the youth, it was a great experience just to talk, to have the opportunity to express my opinion. It’s not often that we have this,” said Baraa Alafloogee. Jafar Nehoya commented, “[Portland] is amazing. It’s a city like any other city, but the people we met made the experience much richer. We met a lot of people that made us think about our community in a different way – in a way that we can rebuild our community, make it better.”
During the program, participants Zahraa Mohammed Obaid and Hasan al-Gamal were invited on OPB's Think Out Loud to speak about their experience growing up in Iraq and their participation in IYLEP.
The exchange program aims to develop a cadre of young adults in Iraq and the United States who have a strong sense of civic responsibility, a commitment to community development, an awareness of current and global issues, strong interpersonal leadership skills, willingness to foster relationships among youth from different ethnic, religious, and national groups in Iraq, and to promote mutual understanding, respect, and collaboration between the United States and Iraq.
View a gallery of images on Flickr. Visit the IYLEP Tumblr to hear the thoughts and experiences of all 44 participants.
The program in Oregon is organized as part of the World Affairs Council of Oregon International Visitors Program.