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.
By Stefan Cornibert
Volunteers in Tajikistan kicked-off the America’s Unofficial Ambassadors (AUA) summer program with local partners and representatives from the U.S. Embassy in a welcome event at the Serena Hotel in Dushanbe, marking the start of volunteers’ service with community-based initiatives and schools.
A team of unofficial ambassadors were on hand for the event, sponsored by the Serena Hotel, as well as Cultural Affairs Officer Andrea Kalan of the U.S. Embassy and Dr. Jo-Ann Gross of The College of New Jersey. Kalan welcomed volunteers to the country, adding their work with schools and grassroots NGOs as part of AUA’s summer program will be beneficial for both Tajikistan and the United States.
As the first group of AUA Summer Service Interns to serve in Tajikistan, Kalan thanked this year’s volunteer group for being “pioneers” in the program and said their work will likely inspire others to serve. “When a program like this starts and other students in the States hear about the opportunities and the experiences, and as more and more people start coming, it will open that up to a much wider audience,” she said. “A huge thank you to AUA for starting this program.”
Kalan said the service unofficial ambassadors have taken on will contribute to America’s citizen diplomacy in the country and noted the importance of volunteers sharing their experiences in Tajikistan with the public when they return home. “So you’re not just unofficial ambassadors here, you’ll also be unofficial ambassadors when you go back to the United States,” she added.
In this inaugural year, six unofficial ambassadors will volunteer as teachers, communications specialists and tutors with local organizations. The volunteers, all women, come from communities across the United States and are all undergraduate students.
“For a college student who spent a majority of her community service working with kids, this opportunity is exciting, novel, and daunting at the same time,” said Noureen Shallwani, who is teaching English at a school in Dushanbe as part of the program. “I am thrilled to be able to say I get to try a new form of service in a new country with a people, language, and culture I am not familiar with through America’s Unofficial Ambassadors.”
AUA is a citizen diplomacy initiative, which builds mutual understanding and enhances people-to-people partnerships between America and the Muslim World. AUA does this by placing Americans in volunteer positions in the Muslim World and helping them share their experiences upon their return.
The organization operates the Summer Service Internship program in Tajikistan, Morocco, Indonesia and Tanzania, placing volunteers with locally-led schools and organizations. Upon their return, volunteers give community-based presentations in the United States about their service to advance AUA’s tolerance-building mission. Last year, 19 volunteers served across three countries.
“We very much appreciate the hospitality of the Serena Hotel. It is gracious of the Serena to support people-to-people partnerships between the United States and Tajikistan and to offer up their beautiful venue so to welcome our unofficial ambassadors to Dushanbe,” said AUA Director and Founder Benjamin Orbach.
Photos By: Britta Nippert, Unofficial Ambassador.