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.
On Friday, September 18, two unofficial ambassadors took the Busboys & Poets stage in Washington DC to share their experiences of volunteering in the Muslim World this past summer. As part of the America’s Unofficial Ambassadors Fall Forum, they each offered a first-hand perspective about the impact of their recent volunteer service at a cultural center in Tajikistan and women’s empowerment NGO in Zanzibar.
The event, moderated by AUA founder, Benjamin Orbach, brought together 60 guests from the diplomatic community, leading universities and colleges, the fields of higher education and international development, and the Busboys & Poets community. Activist and entrepreneur Andy Shallal opened the Forum reminding us how important the activities of programs like America’s Unofficial Ambassadors are to build mutual understanding both in the Muslim World as well as here at home.
Each returned unofficial ambassador gave a presentation about the community they volunteered in, what they did, who they met through their volunteer service, and what they learned. Katrina Marks, a senior at Villanova, served at Forum for African Women Educationalists, an organization dedicated to women’s empowerment, with a particular focus on Zanzibar’s education system. As FAWE’s Communications Intern, Katrina created new social media platforms and content for their online community.
Rob Handerhan, a senior from the College of New Jersey, presented on his service at the Bactria Cultural Center in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Rob taught English as a second language and explained how he developed a close connection to his students. Incorporating pop music, Rob found creative and innovative ways to teach English, while also learning about the culture of Tajikistan.
After the presentations, guests participated in an engaging question and answers session with the unofficial ambassadors, discussing their volunteer experience and impact. The audience was particularly interested in how these unofficial ambassadors viewed their impact and in the stereotypes and cultural stumbling blocks that the Muslim World presented.
Orbach called the evening an “optimistic moment.” He continued, “It is a great feeling to know that we are sending out these talented, sincere, and well-meaning unofficial ambassadors to represent us in places like Zanzibar and Tajikistan and it is equally great to hear about their accomplishments and experiences as they build partnerships for country at the grassroots level.”
Special thanks to Creative Learning President Bill Kruvant, Busboys and Poets host Andy Shallal, and all of our distinguished guests for making this event possible and helping these remarkable volunteers to bridge the gap between the America and the Muslim World.