The Importance of Talking with Your Students.

Teaching abroad is a challenging, but rewarding experience and for Unofficial Ambassador Tomoko Ishikawa it is equally both parts.  At the Tumekuja School in Zanzibar, Tanzania, Tomoko is thrilled to teach her students mathematics from a one-on-one teaching approach.  

Even after a month of teaching and living in Zanzibar I feel that I am still learning and experiencing new things everyday. I am consistently curious and surprised by the Zanzibari living and teaching style.

During my teaching experience at Tumekuja School, I encountered a problem regarding the students’ learning and studying habits and initially struggled to solve the issue. The students’ minimum participation in the class was an issue for me. As I mentioned in the last blog, some non-western cultures tend to prefer hierarchical and collectivist ideas, and from my own personal experiences I consider the culture here in Zanzibar one of them. Students in the classes did not seem to feel comfortable with asking questions; whenever I asked if they understood what was explained on the board, or if they had any questions regarding the lesson materials, almost none or very few responded.

It was hard for me to continue teaching the class because I wanted to make sure that all the students understood what was being taught and could move onto the next lesson. As much as I understood the difference in cultures and the fact that they are not used to being asked to speak in front of the class, as a person whose background is non-western I wanted them to participate.  In order to motivate them and make the seventy-minute class more fun I thought to be more engaged with the students since I also come from a non-western background.

Here I am getting ready to teach math to my students.

Here I am getting ready to teach math to my students.

To improve the situation, first I talked to Mrs. Bim, a math teacher who had previously taught the same classes as I did and asked her if there were possible solutions. She responded that the situation in the class was the same even when she taught and I had to get used to teaching in a quiet classroom.  I decided to ask the same question to the other teachers, but the responses were all the same. Not that I blame the teachers, but I was astonished by the fact that other teachers including Mrs. Bim accepted the lack of an engaged classroom and just continued with the lessons. I tried to come up with a solution and thought what may motivate the student to speak up more. I found that the students might have not realized the importance of expressing their opinions. One day I decided to individually talk to the students, if they understood the materials covered.  Some students told me that they are not quite sure what I was teaching and others told me that they don’t understand why they have to raise their hands, etc.

I realized that whether they understood the lessons or not they were shy and chose not raise their hands.  I told them the necessity of participating in the class and that’s what they need to do. The day after I talked them, I came into the classroom and started the class. When I asked them questions, I saw a few students raising their hands – which never happened before! It was pleasantly surprised because I actually got to see a change in the student’s mind.

In the beginning my teaching experience was tougher than I expected because of the different culture and different teaching system, but I think because it is challenging, the effort is worth it.

A Blending of Two Worlds.

Shana Brouder is excited to show the work she has completed as the Communications Intern at the Bactria Cultural Center in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.  Shana shares a variety of photos showcasing the biggest event at Bactria, World Music Day, held at the Serena Hotel.

Through this internship, I have been so lucky to work with such an amazing organization. One of our biggest events before Ramadan is World Music Day – a day dedicated to the bringing together of both modern and traditional music and other art forms. The event started at 3 pm with a Handicraft fair, then continued into a fashion show and ended with performances from one traditional group and four single artists representing the wide variety in music taste here. As an intern, I was able to play a vital role in the planning and execution of this amazing event! Here are some photos to document my experience:

Shana nametag

Before the press conference which I attended. My name tag is to the left.

As a part of the communication for World Music Day, myself along with Kirill, the project manager, took part in a press conference. Various news, radio, and TV stations came down to ask us questions about the event. This is a picture of my name card alongside Kirill’s. What’s cool is that since the lingua franca here is Russia, they translated my name into Russian for the press conference! – Shana Brouder = Шана Брудер

World Music Day performers

Paddia Dance Group preforming a tradition Tajik dance!

Part of my job in helping plan World Music Day was learning about our performers. This picture is of the Padida Dance Theater group. They preformed a traditional Tajik dance and easily stole the show with their beautiful outfits and incredible dance moves!

Kirill project manager and supervisor at Bactria

From left to right: Timothee, Rusam, and Kirill (my supervisor at Bactria).

Here is a picture of the people in charge of this event form Bactria. On the left is Timothee, the director of Bactria Cultural Centre. On the right is Kirill, the project manager and my supervisor at Bactria. And finally in the middle is Rusam, the assistant project manager who will be taking over as project manager on July 1st when Kirill’s assignment is up. These three have taught me so much during my stay at Bactria not only about Tajikistan, but also about how these types of organizations function and what is needed to keep them successful.

Shana taking pics

Taking as many photos as apart of my duties as a communications intern.


My job on World Music Day was to take photographs of all of the performances so we could send them to our partners and donors as thank yous. I was also able to wear one of the traditional outfits on this day, which definitely kept me cool and in style.

Serena Hotel

Serena Hotel, the venue for World Music Day.

This is a picture of the Serena Hotel, the venue for World Music Day. We came many days to check the space and start making plans for the overall layout for the event. Finally, on the day of the event, we arrived at 11 am to start setting up in about 90 degree (F) heat. It was certainly an experience, but definitely worth it!

Communications event

The poster that I designed which was quite exciting!

One of my main tasks as an intern at Bactria is to handle the communication for our upcoming events. For World Music Day, since it is our biggest event in the summer, I was in charge of designing and translating various forms of communication. This is a picture the poster I designed that was blow up to a massive size and served as information for the patrons of the event. I was especially proud of this assignment because both the design program and the computer itself were all in Russian!

And finally, to keep you up to date on what I’m doing with the rest of my internship, I was lucky enough to be able to propose my own event at Bactria, which was accepted! So I will be hosting a Fourth of July Event at Bactria in order to help teach the people a bit more about American culture through songs, crafts, informational panels, and (of course) food! This is a photo of a map I hand drew of the United States then outlined to show the different regions. This map, along with various other things, will be placed on the informational panels to help teach the people in attendance more about America. I had to free-hand the map so I apologize is your home state is a bit distorted! Trying to draw a large-scale map of the US is not as easy as one may think!


A hand-free drawn map on my approved project!


In Morocco, Unofficial Ambassadors Visited By U.S. Embassy Cultural Affairs Officer.

J.J. Harder, Cultural Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Morocco, made a surprise visit to our six volunteers in Ifrane, Morocco Friday, and got a first-hand look at the work of our Summer Service interns in action.

A team of unofficial ambassadors were on hand for the exciting visit and got to have one-on-one conversations with Mr. Harder about careers in international service and development, as well as their service work. During the summer, the six unofficial ambassadors are volunteering as teachers and summer camp leaders at the Al-Akhwayan University Azrou Center for Community Development and a nearby school in the small shepherding village of Tarmilaat.

We would like to thank Mr. Harder and everyone at the U.S. Embassy in Rabat for the visit. All of our volunteers were grateful for the opportunity. Many thanks as well to Country Coordinator Salaheddine Zekri for sending us these photos.

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Pluralism, Peril, and Purpose.

Winona Vaitekunas has just finished her six weeks of service at an interfaith organization in order to build religious tolerance within Indonesia.  Winona shares her experiences working in Yogyakarta alongside the staff at Dian Interfidei.   

A few days ago I was at a going away party for a friend’s housemate when I introduced myself to an expat here in Yogyakarta. He immediately took interest as to why a young American student was working in Yogyakarta and inquired into my field of work. It was going well until I explained that Dian Interfidei is an interfaith non-governmental organization. His reaction was less than pleasant.

The other interns and I responded to his verbal attack, trying to explain that interfaith work is neither useless nor proselytizing. However, it made me realize just how little the international community knows about the significance of religion and it’s diversity in Indonesia.

Dian Interfidei has given me an opportunity to dive into this field in a way that would never be possible on my own. The religious culture here is hard to understand without being a local, but being able to work alongside an organization that actively engages the need for religious pluralism and promotes tolerance everyday has allowed me to gain a unique perspective where I can personally glimpse some of the culture despite my foreign status. By no means would I consider myself an expert, or even well versed, but I’ve been able to experience an interesting period of time in Yogyakarta that makes me a hundred percent certain that interfaith work is not only useful, but necessary.

The group photo that we took with our lovely staff. I'm wearing the blue skirt and Suraiya, my co-worker, is standing beside me in the pink blouse.

The group photo that we took with our lovely staff. I’m wearing the blue skirt and Suraiya, my co-worker, is standing beside me in the pink blouse.

Probably unbeknownst to everyone at home, in an eerily correlating time frame to my presence in Yogyakarta there has been a sharp rise in acts of religious intolerance.  The first attack occurred on May 30th. I sum up the event with a quote from the article: “[It took place] when Catholics held their weekly meeting to pray the Rosary and practice their Sunday hymns. Local witnesses report that, suddenly, a group of Islamic fundamentalists raided the private house owned by a local Catholic leader, throwing stones and rocks. The assailants brutally beat him and then fled in haste.”

On June 1st, the anniversary of the Pancasila, another group attacked a Pentecostal church in Yogyakarta. (You can read more about it here.) The Pancasila are the five principles which are the official philosophical foundation of Indonesia and they include “just and civilized humanity” and “social justice for all people of Indonesia”. Apparently, the groups thought that stoning a church was the appropriate way to celebrate the anniversary of those principles.

Finally, this past Sunday cleric Ja’far Umar Thalib gave a message at a local mosque where “he repeatedly called on Muslims to wage jihad against so-called infidels and [religious] pluralism. He said pluralism had the potential to cause conflict as it taught that all religions were equally right and that was not the case” (source).

However, on a bright note, yesterday Dian Interfidei hosted Benedict Rogers, the East Asia Team Leader at the international human rights organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide, who presented his report “Indonesia: Pluralism in Peril, The Rise of Religious Intolerance across the Archipelago”. His presentation could not have come at a better time and he even commented on Ja’far Umar Thalib’s preaching, reminding the crowd that pluralism does not teach that all religions are equally right. Pluralism is realizing that everyone deserves the freedom to believe that their religion is right, but also the freedom to express the fears they have of other religions, but in a context where other religions can do the same and promote understanding of each other and peace. In other words, we all just need a little more interfaith dialogue.

Welcome to Dian Interfidei’s purpose. And to the purpose that I am so blessed to be able to experience and take part in during my brief but significant window into Indonesian life.

Re: I won’t Hesitate to Take Steps Forward.

Everyday Ambassador
Summer Service returned volunteer, Gabriela Guerrero was featured on Everyday Ambassador in their Wednesday Wisdom column.  Gabriela talks about her service and the impact she gained.  Congratulations, Gabriela.
Group photo with Noureen, myself, and a few of our students on the last week of class with us before they left back home for the summer.

Group photo with Noureen, myself, and a few of our students on the last week of class with us before they left back home for the summer.

This trip that I spent months preparing for has come to an end. It’s my last night in Dushanbe. I’ve contributed what I could to my placement at Tajik State University of Commerce and tried my best to make a lasting and positive impact. I didn’t go into this with any premeditated expectations and I think that helped make the experience more fulfilling. I received some advice from AUA Program Coordinator, Stefan Cornibert, that this would be a “learn as you go” type of experience. A part of me liked that nothing was too concrete. Allowing for flexibility provided Noureen, my incredible teaching partner at the university, and I with opportunities to both represent our country and its beliefs while opening up the floor to the Tajik perspective.
Follow the link to read more.


AUA In the News: Liselot Koenen

Newly returned AUA Zanzibar Alum Liselot Koenen is in her local newspaper today, the Kane County Chronicle, sharing her story of service. Here’s a piece of the story. Follow the link below to read more. Congratulations, Liselot.

Georgetown University student returns home after six weeks teaching chemistry in Tanzania


Zanzibar, Tanzania, is not necessarily a popular place for young college students to spend their summers. Yet, as Liselot Koenen – a graduate of St. Charles North High School – climbed onto a plane to return to America from Tanzania, she said she was already planning when she could return or make another trip to a developing country.

Koenen spent six weeks of her summer teaching chemistry through America’s Unofficial Ambassadors, an organization that strives to “build mutual understanding between America and the Muslim world,” according to its website.

Stefan Cornibert, program coordinator for America’s Unofficial Ambassadors, said the organization looks for good communicators and people who are serious about foreign service.

Cornibert said the goals of the program are two fold. He said AUA wants its volunteers to have a “substantive impact” with the Muslim communities and be good diplomats by sharing American culture and sharing what they learned while abroad with friends and family after they return.

Follow this link to read more.

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Learning to Give in Morocco.

Alessandra Testa is a rising sophomore at The College of New Jersey and is teaching English at the Al-Akhwayan Azrou Community Center in Morocco during the summer. 

From 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., I team-teach three levels of English at the Al-Akhawayn Azrou Center for Community Development with my fellow Unofficial Ambassador, Neethi Vasudevan. Our students approach learning English with an intensity that I have never seen in any other language class. We have students who are adults with PhD’s in Physics or Engineering who bluntly told us that they need English for their professional careers. Children and teenagers want to travel to the United States or Britain, and that they also want to learn English for future jobs. They treat Neethi and me with the respect and trust that come from high expectations—and to occasional laughter as we blunder our way through the language barrier!

For my first few days, I regret to admit that I was not very empathetic towards people who desperately wanted something that I took for granted. I felt uncomfortable in my role as an American in Morocco. I began to feel like I was viewed as nothing more than an opportunity to practice English, and I questioned my ability to give what I had. I was completely taken aback in a store when the tired-looking clerk told me in halting English how he had taken English classes before, but they weren’t helping him, and if I could give him some resources so he could practice and get better? He had such a hopeful look on his face. I rattled off a few ESL websites and wished him luck.

Then, I saw the situation for what it really is: I’m surrounded by people who are highly self-motivated and know how to get what they want—and I’m in a unique position to make that happen! It takes a lot of humility to admit that you want to improve at something, and a lot more of it to accept instruction from a short, 19-year old female. At the very least, English is nothing more than an acquired skill, and I am very lucky to be in a position to share freely with others.

Here I am at the board teaching our advanced English class.

Here I am at the board teaching our advanced English class.

For native English speakers, it’s pretty easy to take our knowledge of English for granted, and that’s where I made my mistake. It was a great feeling to go back to that store and find out that the clerk had acted on my suggestions—and they helped him a lot! I love it when our students interrupt us to ask for clarification on a word or tell us that they do not understand something. My newfound sense of compassion enabled me to let my inhibitions of being ‘different’ go, and now my focus is not on what I don’t have, but what I can give. Insha’allah, I have three weeks left to make that happen!

My Workplace and Neighborhood of Stone Town.

Summer Service Intern Deborah Carey from Satellite Beach, FL, shares her duties as the Social Networking and Communications Intern at ZAYEDESA in Zanzibar, Tanzania. 

After a month of living and working in Stone Town, Zanzibar, I have had many unforgettable experiences, from local weddings to film festivals. But the most profound aspect of this six-week internship is more difficult to describe than the subtle compare and contrast that underlines most cross-cultural encounters.

One of my many duties as a Social Networking and Communications Intern at ZAYEDESA, is to troll Twitter throughout the day, and as a political Washingtonian, naturally I follow BBC, Al Jazeera, Washington Post, the whole lot. If you have been following a news network recently, you will know the main headlines for the past week have shared a common theme: Muslim extremism. Massacres in Kenya, village raids in Nigeria, and a budding Iraq civil war flood my Twitter feed night and day. As I read these reports, I often feel conflicted, and a little betrayed, as I have experienced the opposite–extreme peace and gentleness of the Muslim faith in my workplace and neighborhood of Stone Town.

Liselot, another Unofficial Ambassador, and I were invited to a beautiful wedding.

Liselot, another Unofficial Ambassador, and I were invited to a beautiful wedding.

I am deeply saddened by the political, economic, and religious turmoil that are conveyed in these recent news articles. But I am equally saddened by the reality that the extreme peace I have witnessed as a guest on this island—a peace I attribute to their reverence in their faith—will never be in the news, to combat the underlying fear that is created through these unfortunate events.

Nowhere else in the world have I felt so safe walking around town, as greetings of “Asalam alaykum” (peace be with you) are offered to me, even as a stranger. Nowhere else have I been invited to a random person’s wedding and felt welcome, or overhear the call to prayer that pulls the entire city out of their beds at five in the morning, to acknowledge a greater force than themselves. 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.

As an “America’s Unofficial Ambassador,” my role, beyond being an effective Intern, is to build peace though “people to people partnerships.” As it turns out, the peace I’m meant to build has been here in Zanzibar all along, all I have had to do is take part in it by sharing my experience with others. In two weeks, when I am back on American soil, my internship won’t be over—it will have just begun.

Winona Vaitekunas featured on Pink Pangea.

Unofficial Ambassador Winona Vaitekunas has finished her summer service in Yogyakarta, Indonesia at Dian Interfidei and shares the experiences she learned along the way.

photo 11[2]

This post was originally posted on Pink Pangea.

As we walked through nondescript streets trying to find our way to Taman Sari, Yogyakarta’s water castle that was once a royal garden of the Sultanate, we were approached by a local man who wandered up to us on yet another confusingly similar back road. He inquired about our sought after destination, and offered us directions. However, he then decided to lead us directly there himself.

Continue Reading on Pink Pangea.

Precious times in Indonesia.

Suraiya Jinah has concluded her volunteer service at Dian Interfidei in Yogyakarta, Indonesia and hopes to continue her service work at her campus community in McGill University, Montreal, Québec.  Here are the photos Suraiya has compiled of her time spent at the interfaith organization. 

This group photo was taken after the first English class that Winona and I taught at Dian Interfidei. The class went smoothly and the employees were really happy that we included some fun games to end things off!

Dian Interfidei staff photo.  I am the one in the center.

Dian Interfidei staff photo. I am the one in the center.

My first panel discussion.

My first panel discussion.

There were a variety of Americans and Indonesians that attended my presentation on Religion and Human Rights .  It was the first community presentation I had ever given so I was really nervous at first, but I’m happy that I was able to get my point across. At the end of it, the audience members were allowed to ask questions. They asked some difficult and thought provoking questions that started some wonderful debates.

The Hindu temple in the background is called Prambanan. We went to visit it on one of our weekend excursions. At the temple, we were swarmed my students who either wanted to take pictures or who wanted to practice their English with us. They asked us questions in very basic English, then took us to see their teacher as proof that they had spoken to us.

At the Prambanan Hindu Temple.

At the Prambanan Hindu Temple.

A few weeks into the internship at Interfidei, Winona and I were invited to attend their neighbor’s wedding. It was a beautiful traditional style Javanese wedding!

Group photo with the newly weds.

Group photo with the newly weds.

The hardest challenge that I’ve had to come across while I’ve been here was when I got sick and my recovery period was extremely slow. I’m happy that I’m finally feeling better and I’m motivated to complete the rest of the internship!