By Ben Orbach

A week ago, Nuran Kolan sent me an email with three photographs attached. The photos showed the beaming face of the principal of the Queen Noor school in Wahdat, a hardscrabble neighborhood in Amman that is home to the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan. The principal of the school was holding one of the two laptops that Nuran had just hand-carried from Washington, DC as part of our School-2-School program.

NuranTragically, Nuran passed away three days later in an Amman hospital from a sudden illness. From Wahdat to Washington, DC where Nuran lived and worked, she will be deeply missed by friends and colleagues who knew her well and by the many people who never got the chance to know her personally but who benefitted from the kindness and goodness of her life’s work.

For 35 years, Nuran Kolan worked in the US government and with non-governmental organizations to improve the lives of people in the Middle East, Africa, Eastern, Europe, and the United States. Fifteen of those years were spent at the US Agency for International Development, creating programs that trained vocational teachers, public health officials, and civil society leaders. The geographic scope of her work ranged from Nigeria to Iraq to the former Soviet Union; her work enabled the first USG funded humanitarian assistance to Azerbaijan.

Nuran was a bridge between her native land and her home. She was a Senior Diplomatic Interpreter for the State Department, working with every US President and Secretary of State in their bilateral meetings with their Turkish counterparts since 1977.

There were bright lights in Nuran’s career, but one of the beautiful things about her was her focus on the people who don’t make the headlines. Nuran was a champion of the underdog, the marginalized, and the forgotten, both overseas and in the United States. Early in her career she developed training programs for union workers in Appalachia; later she supported girls’ scholarships in Iraq; and along the way she devoted herself to autistic children here in Washington, D.C.

As a board member of Creative Learning, she was a stalwart supporter of our School-2-School program, an initiative that partners a school in the United States with a school in the developing world for a virtual exchange, an infrastructure investment, and a volunteer training mission. Through her contacts with the Jordan Education Initiative, she chose our partner in Wahdat.

PrincipalIn 2012, we paired the Queen Noor school with Panaroma Middle School in Colorado Springs. Brittney Scott, a Teach for America Corps Member, taught her students about Jordan, they raised money to buy an electronic white board for the Queen Noor school, and then she volunteered at the school in the summer of 2012 for two weeks, teaching English and training teachers how to use the white board they had requested.

Of course, Nuran arranged Brittney’s housing and donated generously to support the program. She wanted to continue the partnership and our support of the school after Brittney’s mission. After much discussion, we decided to donate some computers for the school. For more than six months we tried to figure out – on a shoe-string budget – a way to transport a couple of lightly used laptops to Jordan.

Tenacious, determined, and ever well-meaning, Nuran decided that she would deliver the laptops herself on her next trip to Jordan. She deserves all the credit for initiating the partnership and taking it to the next level of support. It is fair to say that without her, we’d never know about those young women at the Queen Noor school, and we would never have had the chance to work with them, to support them, and importantly to learn from them. Nuran wasn’t into charity — she built partnerships that were built on mutual respect, empowerment, and dignity.

The story of Nuran and this school in Jordan is a small one. But Nuran’s career was built on hundreds of stories like this one, and the impact of her vision and her work stretches long beyond “performance indicators.” Nuran would never dismiss the measured outcomes of our trade, but her contribution to the field of international development was so much greater than numbers. To work so long in this field, and to continue to care so deeply about the dignity and the lives of individuals who you will never really get to know is something special.

Those of us who knew Nuran miss her deeply today, but all of us will miss her even more tomorrow. Her legacy is great, and her absence profound.

Ben Orbach is the Director of the America’s Unofficial Ambassadors initiative at Creative Learning.


Thank you to our friends at the Azrou Center in Morocco for this great video of last summer’s closing ceremony and showcase!

By Joelle Peikes, Communications and Outreach Intern

In honor of World Health Day (April 7, 2014) AUA would like to highlight some of our programs that support healthy living across the globe! This summer we will be sending American volunteers to three placements in three different countries that support local health and health services.

Kayla Kyle was an unofficial ambassador at ZAYEDESA in 2013

Kayla Kyle was an unofficial ambassador at ZAYEDESA in 2013

The first of these will be a placement in Zanzibar called ZAYEDESA (The Zanzibar Youth Education Environment Development Support Association). ZAYEDESA provides many services to Zanzibari youth and families. One of their main projects supports the large part of the Zanzibari population affected by or at risk for HIV/AIDS. In 2003 they opened four youth friendly VCT centers and funding has provided training for counselors and peer educators as well as HIV/AIDS and other STI testing. ZAYEDESA also offers an anonymous toll-free National AIDS Helpline that encourages abstinence and fidelity, and discourages alcohol and drug use as means of protection against infection. There is also a program for injection drug users, which educates about the risk of sharing needles and encourages frequent blood testing.

In addition to their HIV/AIDS initiative, ZAYEDESA supported the installation of a new maternity ward at the Government General Hospital complete with modern facilities to ensure safe childbirth. ZAYEDESA also partners with a French NGO called Aide Medicale et Development (AMD) to provide an exchange program between midwives and medical professionals in France and Zanzibar.

The second health program that will receive support from AUA volunteers this summer, is PKBI DIY, the Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association. PKBI DIY provides youth education, clinical services and counseling. Since 2005 it has broadened its reach to provide services to marginalized groups in Indonesia such as sex workers, LGBT individuals and those affected by HIV/AIDS. PKBI DIY also campaigns against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender.

Finally, in Tajikistan, volunteers will support an organization called IRODA (Parents of Children with Autism Initiative). IRODA is a unique organization in Tajikistan and the first to provide support to individuals and families impacted by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).


12-year-old Mansur loves using computers at IRODA

In South East Asia Autism is still frequently misunderstood and individuals with ASD are often discriminated against. In fact, until recently in Tajikistan ASD was classified as a form of schizophrenia. IRODA advocates for rights and services for people with ASD. They do this through a number of programs including early intervention services, parent support groups, and by collaborating with local health and education institutions and providing training and information about ASD.

World Health Day is celebrated on April 7 every year to mark the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization in 1948. Each year a theme is chosen in order to highlight a global public health issue. This year’s theme is vector-borne diseases. Vectors are organisms that transmit pathogens and parasites from one infected person (or animal) to another. Vector-borne diseases are illnesses, such as malaria, caused by these pathogens and parasites in human populations. Click here to learn more about vector-borne illnesses and what can be done to prevent these diseases.



By Andi Webb, K-5 Instructional Coach, Alderman Road Elementary School

Today’s Skype session was really interesting. Our fifth grade class Skyped with Sukma Bangsa’s 10-12 year old English class so, for the first time our two groups of students were the same age. We also met their English teacher, Marty. (Sadly Victor couldn’t join us because he had a meeting). And despite some technical challenges, we really learned a lot! Again the students shared their favorite foods and the Indonesian class reiterated that they like to eat chicken and rice. One of our students shared that her favorite food is bacon, and we learned that for our friends in Indonesia pork is prohibited.

We also talked about our schools and we found a few interesting similarities! For example, the Sukma Bangsa school sends out reports twice a semester, as do we. They also grade on a 0-100 point scale, as do we! We shared that our school building was built between 1999 and 2000. Our friends informed us that their school was built in 2006 after the tsunami. We were grateful to them for sharing a bit about the tsunami with us, an event my students can’t even imagine. We were interested and humbled by what they told us. They shared that over 200,000 lives were lost during that time, but eventually they have learned to move on. We were impressed with our new friends’ resiliency. It truly speaks volumes to their character.

Each week my classes and I are learning more and more from our friends in Indonesia. We are consistently amazed and impressed by what they have to teach us and I feel so lucky to be a part of this incredible exchange.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

By Andi Webb, Alderman Road Elementary School K-5 Instructional Coach

21 March 2014

Today was our first Skype session with the students of Alderman Road Elementary and Sukma Bangsa School in Aceh, Indonesia and it was a resounding success! Our first graders Skyped with older children and teachers from the school, as well as with Victor, the principal of Sukma Bangsa School.

Some of our students had never used Skype before so it was really neat to see their excitement and watch them learn. A few days ago, we prepared for the big day by brainstorming appropriate questions to ask and going over basic guidelines for Skype.

Our students took turns asking each other questions, with Victor leading the questioning in Aceh and me leading in Fayetteville. My students learned that people in Aceh eat a lot of chicken and rice. Our children agreed that they also like chicken and rice as well as pizza (of course!).  We also learned about the dry and rainy seasons, and even learned a few words in their language, like hello and thank you!

One thing that several students were curious about were the scarves that they observed the girls wearing on their head. However, I had told them that it wouldn’t be appropriate to ask about that just yet. To my surprise, Victor broached the subject naturally and explained that they are called hijabs and it is a common Muslim tradition for girls and women to wear them. We also learned about Ramadan and fasting. My students were incredulous to learn that during the holiday, Muslims abstain from food and drink all day long for a month. They asked if you get hungry, and Victor laughed good-naturedly, saying that of course they do, but it isn’t so bad after the few couple of days.

Our children shared their favorite colors, some information about the rather crazy weather we’ve had lately,  and where we live. I told them that North Carolina is where Michael Jordan is from, but Victor said they were not very familiar with Michael Jordan since he isn’t active anymore. The children in both places were quite interested in what each other does for fun. They were excited to discover that they all enjoy playing tag and hopscotch!

Several teachers also participated in the session on both sides and we all laughed and learned from each other. The most interesting part for me, came at the very end of our session. The conclusion of our first lesson was prompted by their call to prayer. Curious, our children asked about what it meant and Victor explained that it was time for them to go pray, so we would need to end our session. It was sad to say good-bye because we were enjoying the session so much but we already have plans to reconvene very soon and the children can’t wait!

I think that our students learned much more than they shared this session, since they were a little awestruck. However, I was very impressed with how our students behaved and conducted themselves throughout the session and I am thrilled with their level of enthusiasm!

As we build this partnership, our students at Alderman Road have begun collecting many children’s books for the American Corner at Sukma Bangsa School. Upon their request, we are also working on collecting American flags and maps to contribute to the collection. We are having candy sales and reaching out to the community to work on fundraising. I am excited to continue to deepen our partnership with the people of Aceh, Indonesia and, most importantly, I believe we are beginning to form friendships that could last a long time. Until we meet again….

Andi Webb is an award winning Instructional Coach for all subjects in grades K-5. She has worked at Alderman Road Elementary School in Fayetteville, North Carolina since 1999. Ms. Webb and Victor Yasadhana, principal of the Sukma Bangsa School in Indonesia, have collaborated to build a schedule and content for joint Skype lessons for their students during this semester. In addition, they plan to develop parallel science Olympiad projects and “Go Green” groups. Alderman Road is also participating in fundraising to help Sukma Bangsa build its American Corner library, as well as donating books and other materials. Read more about this partnership here.

Below are some letters written by the students at Alderman Road to their new friends in Indonesia:

letter1 letter2 letter3 letter4

By Joelle Peikes, Communications & Outreach Intern

Being an Unofficial Ambassador is a rewarding experience that takes you to new places and gives you a chance to put your skills to the test while meeting people and learning from a new culture. But the costs associate with doing volunteer service abroad present a challenge that often keeps many would-be ambassadors at home. Flights, program fees, day-to-expenses, all of it can add up to more than some prospective volunteers can afford.

For some, AUA’s Mosaic Grants Program provides financial aid to make the Summer Service Internship program more affordable. For others, crowd-funding is becoming an increasingly more valuable way to raise money that will bring down the cost of service abroad.

Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available to help guide crowd-funding efforts. April 5, 2014 marks the 2nd annual Global Crowd-Funding Day, an organized 24-hour drive to raise funds on crowd-funding sites with a page that includes advice and ideas to make crowd-funding effective. As part of #globalCFday, you can also catch a streaming radio broadcast with crowd-funding experts covering every facet of running a crowd-funding campaign.

But it’s not enough just to create a page online and wait for funding to roll in. Instead, it pays to be pro-active. So here are some tips and resources to help you get started and get the most out of a crowd-funding campaign for your volunteer service.

The Basics

Crowd-funding empowers individuals, groups or even companies to raise money online for projects through their personal connections and networks. A whole host of sites are available on the Web that enable prospective volunteers to create a page and start raising funds. Many take a small fee from each donation for use of the service, normally in the range of 3%-7%. You can upload photos, a text description about your service plans and even videos to help share the details of where you want to go, what you want to do and why you want to serve. Here are some examples:

Rockethub is one popular online tool for setting up a crowd-funding campaign. It walks users through the process of creating a description of their project and reaching out to their circle of contacts.

Similarly, Indiegogo is an effective platform for raising funds and hosts scores of pages with examples of volunteers raising money for service overseas.

Gofundme, is yet another crowd-funding site popular with prospective volunteers.

No matter which platform you choose, the benefit of creating a page is that you’ll have a landing place for your volunteer effort online to which you can send to people interested in learning more about what your volunteer plan are and each one of those people is a potential donor. Whether they give $1 or $100, those donations add up.

Getting Started

Creating a crowd-funding page is just the beginning. Once you have a landing place, you need to try to bring visitors to the site and encourage people to share your story with others. RocketHub has an awesome Success School page with info on how to spread the word and make the most of your campaign that any potential crowd-funder should check out if they want to get ideas and raise money. Additionally, Indiegogo came up with this handy video on crowd-funding success:

Here are some other quick ideas to help get you started:

1)       First off, make the most of your social media circle. Share the page on your Facebook or other social media feeds and urge your friends to repost it on their walls as well. It’s simple, easy and requires little effort.

2)      Make a list of people you know who would be open to helping you and email them directly. Politely ask for their help in spreading the word and ask them to share your page with colleagues and other people in their community or networks.

3)      Likewise, make a list of groups or organizations who might have an interest in supporting your service work and send them a link to your page. They might be a student group on your campus, people in your faith community, or people in local organizations. Tell them about the service work you’ll be doing, the social or development issue you’re hoping to address through your service work and why it matters to their group.

4)      Write something. Pen a blog post and ask other bloggers to re-blog it for their readers. If you’re a good writer, submit an article to a publication about your service plans or write a letter to the editor of your local community newspaper to let more people know about your campaign. Just like with #3, focus what you’re writing on the important issues surrounding your service plans rather than just your campaign itself. Whether it’s addressing HIV/AIDs education in a place that needs it, or working to expand educational opportunities in a small village, tell people why your service work matters and include a link to the campaign.

5)      Lastly, keep the beat going. Your crowd-funding campaign is something you should stay engaged with every day it is active, even if it’s just for a few minutes. You can post updates to your donors about your progress on the page, research new places or people to whom you can reach out, or post new materials talking about your service plans. The bottom line, be proactive. The more you’re engaged in the campaign, the more other people will be too.

Added Benefits & Crowd-Funding’s Future

There are several benefits to raising money through crowd-funding aside from the money it produces. It builds awareness and support for your company, organization or project. It can build your professional network by linking you to donors with common interests and goals, connections that can sometimes lead to lasting partnerships

Looking ahead, crowd-funding can also be used to forge cooperation between governments and private citizens or groups. In a recent Diplomatic Courier article, Crowdfunding Diplomacy: The Next Frontier for Government, Daniella Foster of the U.S. Department of State highlights some of the potential crowd-funding has for building partnerships, funding projects and even establishing cooperative efforts between the government and nonprofits or individuals who have common goals. (Many thanks to Daniella for a lot of the resources listed above)

“If you combined government’s ability to convene and accelerate projects globally with the crowd-funding platform’s ability to engage local communities and investors in projects, you would have a potentially game-changing impact on grassroots diplomacy and development. Why? Because in an era of budget cuts, the value that government brings to the table has shifted from funder to partner.”

Additional Resources:

Here are some added pages and links you can use to help spur your crowd-funding campaign:

CrowdMapped: A crowd-funding site directory

Fundraising Tips for Volunteer Service

Crowd-funding Lessons Learned

If you were online for our Google Hangout on Careers in International Development this week, or if you’re just catching up after watching a recording of the session we posted earlier, you might find this reading list helpful.

Suggested by our AUA Director, Ben Orbach, here’s a short list of books to check out if you’re interested in making international development your career path.

  • Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo, provides an insightful critique of international aid practices in Africa.
  • The End of Poverty by Jeffery Sachs, describes the state of global economic inequality.
  • The White Man’s Burden by William Easterly, chronicles and critiques the failures of Western nations to address the root causes of poverty in developing countries.  





Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 397 other followers