America's Unofficial Ambassadors

We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.

“We May Have Different Religions, Different Languages, Different Colored Skin, but We All Belong to One Human Race”- Kofi Annan

This post was written by Lusine Sarkisyan after her trip to Zanzibar. 

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It has been a week since I’ve been back from my volunteering trip in Zanzibar. Even though it feels great to be home and see my friends and family, I can’t help but miss the time spent in Zanzibar. I got to know four wonderful volunteers who chose to spend their summer teaching English and computer literacy in schools and local NGOs. As a volunteer working with Zayedesa, I had the opportunity to work with a group of individuals who are passionate about supporting their community and raising awareness of HIV/AIDS. I had the opportunity to participate in outreach activities and meet some of the recipients of Zayedesa’s assistance programs. Most importantly, I served as an unofficial ambassador and represented my country in building better relations between America and the Muslim World.

As an unofficial ambassador, I was able to make a small, but very positive impact on the people at Zayedesa. During the two weeks, I worked closely with the CEO to improve their existing systems in proposal development and identified new ways to raise funds. I facilitated training sessions with Zayedesa and other NGOs in Zanzibar, including the Zanzibar Youth Forum, during which we covered topics such as identifying and tracking USG funding opportunities, drafting applications, ensuring compliance with USAID rules and regulations, reading requests for applications, developing proposal outlines, and much more. I would have liked to spend more time with the staff to reinforce the training and lessons, but time didn’t allow it. By using the tools I’ve introduced to the organization, Zayedesa will be able to acquire additional funds and expand its scope of work to improve the communities affected by unemployment and poverty.  As I said my goodbyes to my colleagues at Zayedesa, I promised to remain in touch and support them in their proposal development efforts even after my return to the United States.

Although Zanzibar is one of the most beautiful places on earth, the living conditions of the people are far from beautiful. Most Westerners that visit the island view Zanzibar as one of the best tourist destinations in the Indian Ocean. The daily life of the local community is well hidden from them behind the tall walls of the luxurious hotels. During this trip, I had the opportunity to see what lies behind those tall walls and experience what it’s like to live on less than a dollar a day. Despite all the hardships, Zanzibarians are the nicest and most caring people I have met. Faced with many challenges, they are still eager to learn, support each other, and improve their living conditions. During one of Zayedesa’s outreach missions, I had the opportunity to visit one of the poorest communities in Nungwi where I met the most grateful people on earth. They were overwhelmed with emotions when they found out that Zayedesa was providing free-of-charge HIV testing and counseling support. To express gratitude, one of the community members opened his doors to Zayedesa’s lab technicians so the HIV testing could be conducted in privacy.

The trip to Zanzibar was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had. I have a great deal respect for my colleagues at Zayedesa and people I have met during this trip. No matter how little they have, they work hard at supporting their communities to better their lives. I can’t stress enough how critical it was for me to see Zayedesa’s work at the community level. As an international development professional, it was important for me to get out there and get a glimpse of the life in the developing world, the world we talk about in our proposals at the headquarters.  By being open-minded and sensitive to cultural differences, I was able to succeed as America’s Unofficial Ambassador. I not only shared my knowledge and skills as an international development professional, but I also made people-to-people partnerships between America and the Muslim World.

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