Semester of Service Now Available!

AUA is thrilled to announce the Semester of Service: Indonesia.

859540_578514708828130_1715870759_oVolunteers are now able to take classes and serve abroad in Indonesia for a whole semester, beginning Fall 2015.

The America’s Unofficial Ambassadors Semester of Service program is a competitive study abroad program that offers students from all over the United States the chance to earn a full semester of academic credit while studying Bahasa, history, and culture at Gadjah Mada University and interning with a school or grassroots organization in Indonesia. AUA’s semester program includes:

  • 20-25 hours each week of direct internship experience with a school or NGO working in fields like education, human rights, and women’s empowerment, follow this link for a list of potential placements
  • 2 classes per week in fields like Political Science, Southeast Asian studies, or history
  • 3 hours of university level Bahasa instruction each week
  • And 1 unique opportunity to become an unofficial ambassador to Indonesia, its culture and its people.

Program dates: Fall, 2015

Applications are due Jan. 2, 2015

APPLY TODAY!

Increasing Access to Health Resources and Information in Zanzibar

By Alison Muscato

Access to health care and resources is a key challenge in many of the communities where America’s Unofficial Ambassadors are active, providing health information and outreach related to issues like HIV/AIDS through our partner organizations.

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Among them is the Zanzibar Youth Education Environment Development Support Association (ZAYEDESA), a non-profit organization in Zanzibar, Tanzania, that helps young people facing socio-economic problems including unemployment, dropping out of school, drug abuse, and, in particular, HIV/AIDS. Though the disease is less prevalent in Zanzibar than elsewhere in the region, international groups estimate the local rate of infection at about .6 percent of population.

ZAYEDESA has a specific project that tackles HIV/AIDS. To address the factors driving Zanzibar’s HIV/AIDS infection rates, ZAYEDESA opened the first HIV/AIDS counseling center in Stone Town, the island’s capital. They also opened 4 Youth Friendly voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) centers where youth can see counselors and speak with peer educators. Peer educators conduct voluntary counseling, test for HIV/AIDS and other Sexual Transmission Infections (STIs), distribute information, education and communication (IEC) materials, and run outreach programs using film, seminars, school debates, sport events, and radio and television talk shows. ZAYEDESA also provides an anonymous toll free National AIDS Helpline.

Deborah Carey, a student at American University, interned at ZAYEDESA through AUA’s 2014 Summer Service Internship program. Deborah worked on social networking and communications outreach at ZAYEDESA, boosting its ability to connect with donors and prospective partners.

“I am constantly moved by the people here, and can only hope that, upon returning, my conversations and presentations about my experience will reflect the connectedness and compassion of this Muslim community.” -Deborah Carey

You can read Deborah’s stories from the field here:

To learn about more service opportunities in Zanzibar, click here.

If you’re thinking of applying to serve in Zanzibar, here are some fast facts and resources about HIV/AIDS from UNAIDS and AVERT.

Mariel Shilling Shares about her Experience at the Forodhani Secondary School

AUA volunteer Mariel Shilling presents at Blair High School, Silver Spring MD.

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Mariel spent this past summer interning at the Forodhani Secondary School in Zanzibar. Last week, Mariel spoke about her experience teaching English and breaking down cultural barriers to a Global Issues class at Blair High School in Silver Spring MD. The students loved her presentation and asked many questions! Since she has returned, Mariel has also presented on two panels at Washington College, one about internship experiences on Fall Family Weekend and one for the political science department.

International Day of the Girl Child 2014

By Alison Muscato

Across the globe, young girls struggle for equality in their homes, schools, and communities. On Oct. 11, 2014, the United Nations marks the International Day of the Girl Child. 

The International Day of the Girl Child was created in order to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges they face around the world. This year, the theme of the day is, “Empowering Adolescent Girls: Ending the Cycle of Violence,” to acknowledge the importance of investing in and empowering adolescent girls as well as preventing and eliminating various forms of violence young girls face today. The UN Secretary General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, the Education for All movement, and the global movement to end child marriage are all initiatives designed to support, protect, and empower young girls.

Education plays a major role in ending the cycle of violence. One of our partners, Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), is dedicated to improving educational opportunities and access for women and young girls. FAWE seeks to accomplish these goals by offering professional development initiatives for teachers, tuition assistance for orphans and students in need, and campaigns to promote education equity in local schools. Margaret Lamb, a student at Villanova, volunteered at FAWE for her Summer Service Internship placement during the summer of 2014. She worked on communications for FAWE, especially by managing their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Additionally, she worked on FAWE’s initiative, Women in STEM which aims to increase women’s interest and skill in science-related fields. Read more about Margaret’s experience here.

“Educating girls, while it may seem to be a simple development initiative, is one that involves complex understandings of the cultures and societies that are affected. There are a myriad of potential roadblocks, both practical and ideological, that must be counteracted.”

– Excerpt from Margaret Lamb’s Pre-Departure Blog Post

UN initiatives and global movements underscore the importance of recognizing girls’ rights and the challenge they face daily. Alongside these campaigns, FAWE is working hard to provide girls with more opportunities and resources in order to achieve a more equitable and peaceful society. AUA is looking for more unofficial ambassadors to work with FAWE’s Zanzibar branch in 2015. To learn more about the placement and other service options in Zanzibar, follow this link.

Education Advances in Morocco

By Alison Muscato

Access to education is a challenge facing students in many parts of the world, including some areas in Morocco where unofficial ambassadors volunteer.

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Located in a rustic shepherding village, the Tarmilaat Village School serves about 25 students ranging in age from 9 to 15 years old. Before its construction, students had to walk several miles and cross a busy roadway to get to the nearest school in the next village, a journey some were unable to make. This summer, the school would have shut its doors for several months were it not for Andradene Lowe and Phoebe Shelor, two of America’s Unofficial Ambassadors who taught French and organized summer activities in partnership with parents in the village.

At the same time, in the nearby town of Azrou, Unofficial Ambassadors Alessandra Testa and Neethi Vasudevan were teaching English at the Al-Akhwayan Azrou Center for Community Development. While the Azrou Center has many programs, all focusing on various education and job-training, it had never been able to host a summer ESL program for students until unofficial ambassadors began serving there in 2013. Neethi and Alessandra were able to continue that program in 2014, planning lessons and teaching several classrooms of students for six weeks.

In both of these placements, unofficial ambassadors are able to expand education access for students, who otherwise might have missed out on a chance to learn during the summer months, by providing lessons that help students to perform better in the next academic year.

If you’re thinking of applying to serve in Morocco, here are some fast facts that offer some insight into its education needs and challenges, as well as some first-hand accounts from previous unofficial ambassadors.

From the CIA World Factbook, Morocco World News, and the World Bank

Read about volunteers’ experiences with education in Morocco on our blog: Teaching in Moroccan Time, A Whirlwind Beginning, Math in Morocco, Teaching French in Morocco, Learning to Give in Morocco, and a video of Azrou Center Festivities.

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The Many Benefits of Studying Abroad.

This post was written by Alison Muscato, Communications Intern at AUA.

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The Institute of International Education has created a list with the top 10 reasons to go abroad. Some of the highlights include, learn another language, develop new skills, expand your worldview and make friends across the globe. But if you choose to go abroad through one of AUA’s programs, you will also be able to add something more, making an impact through volunteering, encouraging intercultural dialogue and tolerance, and practicing citizen diplomacy abroad!

Me, I studied abroad twice throughout my time at Penn State. Once in Tanzania and once in South Africa. Each trip was unique and taught me valuable lessons, such as hot showers are overrated and having the electricity go out is a great excuse to not do your homework. More seriously, though, my time abroad encouraged my desire to travel and my interest in international issues. I chose programs that allowed me to be immersed in the new cultures, traditions, and languages and learn and laugh with people who I would have never met in suburban Maryland. I absolutely loved my time abroad and would encourage any undergraduate student or recent graduate to study abroad!

You can learn more about AUA’s programs here, and stay tuned later this fall for news about AUA’s Semester of Service program, a great chance for students to combine study abroad and internship experience with a school or grassroots organization.

International Day of Non-Violence 2014

Today is the International Day of Non-Violence. Throughout the world, violence takes many different forms. We live in an era of increasing global connections where people frequently come face to face with people who hold different beliefs, speak new languages, and practice unfamiliar traditions. Unfortunately, often these meetings breed violence. I wish that the universal response to meeting people from different cultures was to teach and learn from each other, respect each other, and build a more tolerant and peaceful world together.

The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, speaks about non-violence in his message for the International Day of Non-Violence 2014. He says,

“We have to foster a culture of peace, built on dialogue and understanding, for living together in harmony while respecting and celebrating humanity’s rich diversity.
There is no greater tool than education to enhance human dignity, promote a culture of non-violence, and build lasting peace. Through education, we can craft new ways of living with each other and the planet. Education can also lay the foundation for developing new forms of global citizenship and solidarity that are so essential in today’s world.
On this Day, I call on all people to counter the forces of intolerance, advance global citizenship and forge human solidarity based on Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence.”

Volunteers and Staff at Dian Interfidei.

Volunteers and Staff at Dian Interfidei.

AUA continues to promote the tenets of non-violence through our volunteer programs. In the past, we have sent volunteers to Dian Interfidei, an interfaith organization working to build religious tolerance in Indonesia. Their vision and mission can be found in more detail on their website along with information about their activities. Dian Interfidei seeks to, “establish a civilized plural civic society that is rooted in the values of humanities, democracy, justice, and the integrity of all creation.” They believe in the importance of dialogue to increase cooperation and tolerance between differing groups of people. One volunteer, Winona Vaitekunas, wrote about volunteering at Dian Interfidei and some lessons she learned during her time there. When our volunteers return home from their internships abroad, they share their experience with their local communities. This process of encouraging dialogue, both at home and abroad, is a valuable aspect of our volunteer program, a way to promote peace and intercultural understanding, and a means to spread the philosophy of non-violence.

Post written by Alison Muscato.

Fiona Lloyd-Muller Presents at Guilford College

AUA volunteer, Fiona Lloyd-Muller presented about her experience teaching English to high school students at the English-Speaking International Muslim school in Zanzibar. She spoke to her fellow students at Guilford College about her time in Zanzibar and engaged them in discussion.

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On Wednesday, September 24th, at 7pm, I gave my first presentation on my AUA Internship to Zanzibar, Tanzania this past summer. It was held in the Principled Problem Solving room, in King Hall in Guilford College. I advertised for it by making and putting up fliers, putting an ad in the daily college email announcements, sending the fliers to all of my professors and mentors on campus who supported me in some way through the experience, and telling everyone I know to come support and learn!

The presentation itself was a success, although not particularly amazingly attended. The 10 or so people who were there were really interested in what I had to say, and wanted to learn more and discuss abroad experiences. I was able to speak about my experience, Zanzibar, and the way my privilege influenced the way the world views me, and the way I view the world. It was a lot of fun, and I think the next presentation should be great as well!

Fiona's flier she created to advertise her presentation.

Fiona’s flier she created to advertise her presentation.

Shana Brouder Returns Home and Reflects on her Time in Tajikistan

AUA Volunteer, Shana Brouder, has returned from her time working in Tajikistan with the Bactria Cultural Centre. She reflects on her overall experience in Tajikistan and dispels common stereotypes about the Muslim World.

Shana Collage

The word prejudice is overflowing with negative connotations. If you were to stop a random person on the street and ask them what prejudices they hold, I would bet my life savings that 99 out of every 100 would say they had none because who would want to admit they have an unfounded negative belief against one group? Not many, if any.

Coming from just outside of New York City, prejudice against the Muslim community is not a new phenomenon and for many not without pretense. I think all of us living in this area have just been so traumatized that it’s hard to realize you even have these prejudices until they’re challenged.

My time in Tajikistan has taught me so many things, but the message I think is most important is how being Muslim is not a defining characteristic. It does not make a person automatically aggressive, or bad, or violent, or any of these other words we associate with terrorism. Going on this internship, I knew I would be living in the “Muslim World” but the truth is, when you look past wearing long skirts in June when it’s bordering 100*F outside, it feels just like any other place in the world. The kindness that was shown to my friends and I there was absolutely incredible and truly beyond description. Every goodbye we had the last few days was filled with tears as these people had become, in six short weeks, a family to us. The word “Muslim” was never present. It was not a blockade or a barrier to our relationships – it was just a fact. I am a Christian, you are a Muslim, and after these six weeks have gone by I can truly not imagine making it through my time in Tajikistan without you.

The Muslim world isn’t scary. I think we have this picture in our heads in America that everywhere in the “Muslim world” has terrorists and women covered head to toe against their will, and every time you walk down the street you have to fear for your safety because you never know what will happen. Now I’m not saying that may not be a description for some places, but it certainly is not a blanket statement one can say describes the entire Muslim world. Tajikistan is a beautiful country with amazingly friendly people. In six weeks, I never once felt unsafe, threatened, or in any way insecure. Any feelings I had there in regards to my safety would be justified in New York City, Baltimore, Barcelona, or any other major city I have visited previously. Just because the majority of people there were Muslims did not make it inherently dangerous or threatening. It was just another city located in another part of the world.

We shouldn’t be afraid of making these connections with the Muslim world. Yes extremists do exist, but that doesn’t make every single person bad or responsible. The truth is we need to stop making religion a defining characteristic of a person. When it comes to making friendships, we need to realize something like religion is not as dramatic or important as recent times make it seem. A person is so much more than what god they choose to believe in.

My time in Tajikistan will always have a special place in my heart. I have thought about my experience there so many times since returning to the United States and traveling to Germany. There are many things I miss – the mountains, the food – but most of all I miss the people and friends I made there. I am so grateful for this experience that has changed my life so much, all for the better. So to everyone in Dushanbe, I hope you’re doing great and that I get to see you again sooner rather than later!

Thank you to all these amazing people I met, worked with, lived with, laughed with, cried with, and will never forget.

 

Deborah Carey’s Second Presention: American University

Unofficial Ambassador Deborah Carey gave her second presentation, this time at American University. She spoke about her time volunteering in Zanzibar at ZAYEDESA and engaged her fellow students in a discussion about their experiences abroad. Many students also had similar stories to Deborah’s where they felt very welcome as Americans in Muslim societies.

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