CDAF 2023 Winners

Congratulations to the winners of this year’s Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund (CDAF) competition! The 2023 competition was the most competitive to date, with 47 winning teams selected out of 187 applications. The winning teams reflect a diverse range of exchange programs, supported by several U.S. government agencies and various communities across the United States.

CDAF was launched in 2019 to empower U.S. citizen alumni of U.S. government sponsored exchange programs (ExchangeAlumni) to support their communities through public service projects, and address key foreign policy goals. To date, 236 teams of U.S. citizen ExchangeAlumni have been granted over $1.85 million to build on skills gained during their exchange programs, advance U.S. foreign policy priorities, and address the needs of their communities.

Distribution of 2023 CDAF winners. Map created by the Office of Alumni Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

Meet the 2023 CDAF Teams

Ballroom Saves Lives: Resiliency and Wellness in Peru Ballroom aims to uplift transgender and gender diverse youth leaders in Lima, Peru by amplifying arts-based ballroom spaces, connecting LGBTQIA+ people with healthcare resources, and fostering trust with health providers through the ballroom community through three events and a series of workshops. Ballroom is a performance art style and culture consisting of dance, modeling, and community engagement that began in the Black and Latinx LGBTQIA+ community.

Be the Superhero of Your Own Story / Sé el Superhéroe de Tu Propia Historia brings together comic book artists and publishers from the Dominican Republic and local elementary schools with high populations of children of color, English language learners, and children receiving free or reduced-price meals, to help them write and illustrate their own stories. Through hands-on workshops, students will develop their personal voices and create a space for their stories and experiences. A separate workshop will be offered in partnership with the Minneapolis College of Art + Design for teens and young adults to develop mentorships and a strategy to break into the comic book publishing business.

Black Gold / 黒金 aims to build a stronger relationship between Japanese and Black communities by celebrating the stories of Black community members in Japan, and in turn, increase the number of black students who study abroad. The project will include portraits and interviews of 30 Black creatives and entrepreneurs throughout Japan on topics including their experience living abroad in Japan, how they built relationships within their communities in Japan, and advice for youth. These stories will be featured in galleries in Japanese and English, and conclude with a community event in Japan that provides an immersive cultural exchange opportunity for all community members.

Camp cARTal is a one-week summer day camp in Alanya—located in the Antalya region of Turkey (Türkiye) – that will encourage self-expression, creativity, and joy through art in middle-aged children, while also immersing them in English. Alanya is a melting pot of cultures and identities. The camp will target in-need students and bring together a diverse group of individuals from different backgrounds.

Centering Indigenous Taiwan: Sharing Stories and Amplifying Native Voices, Histories, and Cultures / 聚焦台灣原住民: 透過分享故事來深入了解原住民歷史文化並傾聽他們的聲音. aims to empower Indigenous Taiwanese youth to become storytellers and leaders in creating their narratives. Through a workshop series, the project will engage the local Taiwanese community and foreign visitors in conversations about Indigenous sovereignty, empowerment, and how non-Indigenous people can be in allyship in advocating for cultural and language preservation and policy. Workshops will introduce attendees to the different facets of Indigenous resistance and preservation work, and also bring together a cohort of Indigenous Taiwanese youth to develop a multimedia project that highlights and celebrates their community. 

Chasing Ice: Empowering Young Hockey Players in Ladakh is a community project that seeks to support the hockey community in Ladakh, India. Ice hockey is a winter tradition in Ladakh, but with the Himalayan region disproportionately facing the impacts of climate change, the ice season is becoming increasingly unpredictable. Working with the Students Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL), an alternative high school serving underprivileged kids from across Ladakh, this project will organize community workshops aimed at designing a new climate resilient rink and provide off-ice training to support the growth of roller and street hockey so that hockey can be played year round.

Community-Building Intercultural Exchange Program is a virtual five-week program that seeks to cultivate cross-cultural empathy, friendship, and collaboration among teenagers across the world. Each week, participants will engage in language classes, one-on-one conversations with international peers, service-oriented workshops about the Sustainable Development Goals, and professional development sessions about global career and educational opportunities. Participants will also hone their civic engagement skills by attending leadership workshops and ultimately creating and implementing a community service project.

Creating Community for Ukrainian Refugees Through Art will facilitate cross-cultural dialogue between Poles, Ukrainians, and other groups through art workshops in cities across Poland. Over a year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, more than 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees remain in Poland. The workshops, held in Kraków, Warsaw, and Wrocław, provide space for intergenerational community members to connect through personal stories and family histories of migration and displacement. Following prompt-based discussions, participants will produce visual art and poetry, which will be curated and displayed – with accompanying historical context – in physical and online exhibits.

Creating Educational Leaders for Underserved Areas in Pakistan aims to equip 20 English Language Teacher Trainers (ELTs) to create professional development opportunities for educators in underserved and rural areas of Pakistan. The series of workshops will enhance the teaching skills of educators who lack sufficient English language skills By connecting ELTs experienced in virtual and face-to-face English language training, these workshops will support and empower educators who lack English language and digital skills and connect them to 21st-century language teaching and learning practices.

Creative Collaborazione: Artistically Inclusive Classrooms Across Cultures will engage 200 students ages 9-12 in the imaginative processes of writing, designing, performing, and producing live theater. Students from Ellis Mendell Elementary School in Boston, Massachusetts will virtually collaborate with deaf and hearing students from Istituto Statale di Istruzione Specializzata per Sordi (ISISS) in Rome, Italy on visual and performing arts education pedagogy and practice. Over the course of three-weeks, the two elementary schools will join forces to create an original theatrical performance to be shared on a local and global stage. The project is an innovative opportunity for students to cultivate global relationships, cross-cultural collaboration, and positive self-expression.

Cultural Exchange Through Teen-Centered (High School) Theatre connects teens from a small village in the Plateau Central Region of Burkina Faso with teens from Bowling Green, Ohio, a small city in the Midwest, through theater. The collaborative creative process begins as the class in Burkina Faso creates a performance that highlights socio-economic problems faced by youths in Burkina, as the class in Ohio adapts folktales from Burkina Faso. The adapted plays will be performed over a 10-day period in November 2023 with guided discussions after each performance exploring how the stories demonstrate qualities of human interaction that influence choices and outcomes relating to politics, equity, and gender, and measure conditions that challenge both Burkina and U.S. societies.

Curiosity Literacy will bring together four female educators from around the world to create a free intermediate level curriculum for English language learners to empower women and girls. The project will also develop five Training-of-Trainers workshops for English teachers on five pedagogical topics and develop an ongoing community of practice for teachers on Instagram and Facebook. The four educators will receive ongoing support throughout the project to better facilitate educational programming and economic empowerment for women and girls in the United States and abroad.

Defensores Ambientales (Planet Defenders) is a three-week program designed to inspire crucial conversations and reflections with youth on environmental justice, climate change, and loss of biodiversity in the Iztapalapa Borough of Mexico City. Educators, artists, and ecologists, in partnership with a local community center, will create a space for young people to learn about the environmental crisis they face on a local, national, and global scale, and also to support student inquiries into restoration and response. This project will offer students a vocabulary of global action, tools for critical reflection, and therapeutic art outlets to inspire curiosity and intentional action. The project will culminate with a mural project that celebrates the rising agency of the global youth.

Destination Exchange: Unlock the World with Funding is a three-day workshop that introduces high school students in Detroit, Michigan and Maui, Hawaii to international exchange programs provided by the U.S. Government. The goal of the workshop is to equip students from historically underserved communities with the knowledge and skills necessary to take advantage of international exchange programs that suit their unique interests. The project team plans to accomplish this goal through engaging presentations incorporating art, food, and trivia to inspire them to explore new cultures and broaden their worldviews. The workshops also will provide 1:1 coaching, tips to navigate the application process, as well as training manuals for educators to replicate this workshop in the future.

Developing Citizenship Education to Strengthen Citizen Oversight and Government Accountability in Zimbabwe seeks to enhance local accountability in Zimbabwe by strengthening the oversight role of citizens and elected local government representatives in public finance management. This will be a six-month pilot project targeting the Runde Rural District Council in the Midlands Province, Zimbabwe. The project team will engage community- based organizations on social accountability monitoring; link local level efforts with national level issues; and advocate for legislative reforms towards local government accountability, transparency, and efficiency. This project employs a civic-political engagement strategy that connects citizens, elected representatives, and other duty bearers on local government mandate and performance to achieve the goal of improved local democratic accountability.

Early Development for Girls in Engineering (EDGE) will connect 15 female high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds in metro Atlanta in a multi-weekend boot camp hosted at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Over the course of four weekends, the cohort will participate in interactive lectures, hands-on demos, and an explorative, team-based project to empower these women to pursue postsecondary education and engineering interests, address the gender gap in engineering, and provide resources for career development. The motivation for EDGE stems from the teams’ own misconceptions of engineering when they were in high school. 

Elevating Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Voices in the Andes aims to inspire middle and high school students with Afro and Indigenous roots to create and digitally publish mini graphic novels in a series of weekend workshops over a 3-week period in Cartagena, Medellin, and Bogota, Colombia. The goal is to amplify marginalized and underrepresented communities and individuals to gain confidence in sharing their stories and creating a space to explore their multifaceted identities in a creative way. The project will culminate in a virtual showcase event that allows participants to share their stories to extend the reach of the project to a wider audience.

Empowering Young Kenyans to Respond to Misinformation & Disinformation through Research, Training, and a Toolkit will equip young Kenyans with a toolkit containing strategies to identify and respond to political misinformation and disinformation. The toolkit will be informed by research about the 2022 Kenyan national elections. Working in collaboration with Nairobi-based organizations, including the Emerging Leaders Foundation (ELF), the team will host a Training of Trainers (ToT) workshop to pilot the toolkit with a youth group and collect feedback, before finalizing the toolkit as a permanent resource with ELF as part of their ongoing mentorship program. 

En Pointe for Equality aims to provide children in underserved and underrepresented communities with an after-school ballet program. The project will introduce the fundamentals of ballet to children, including body alignment, technique, and basic terminology, while emphasizing the importance of discipline, confidence, self-expression, and teamwork. By collaborating with local community centers and schools, the project will expand access to ballet training, and create a safe and inclusive space where children can explore the art of ballet, build their confidence and creativity, and foster a lifelong appreciation for the arts. 

The Exchange Alumni Ambassadors Program is designed to increase awareness of scholarship opportunities offered by the U.S. Department of State among historically underserved students. The program will also serve as a platform for both alumni scholars and potential scholarship recipients to grow professionally. The program is committed to offering equal opportunities to underrepresented communities, while promoting equitable educational services that can bridge the gap for marginalized groups across the nation and make the international education landscape more accessible. 

Generation Go-Giver: Encouraging Youth Action Against Climate Change will inspire students to take individual and collective action to mitigate climate change in their communities and future careers. By connecting rural and urban communities in the United States and Mexico, the project aims to strengthen climate education and foster sustainable practices. The project will develop a shared resource bank that includes interviews with successful environmental professionals, and encourage action through student competitions. 

Ghanaian Youth + Environmental Artivism (G-YEA!) will empower youth to address a major issue of our time by using art to inform and ignite action. The project begins with listening to youth to understand their knowledge and opinions about environmental justice, then supports them in expanding their analysis to create messaging that sparks awareness and action.

Global Denver Youth Summit will bring together young professionals in the Denver-area for a half day Summit in October to network, learn about various international exchange opportunities, and discuss how young people can help tackle major international challenges. The Summit is designed to engage students from historically under-represented backgrounds, including Black, Latino, and Lakota indigenous groups, and build on the momentum of the U.S. Department of State’s inaugural Cities Summit of the Americas—held in April—and around the Fulbright Association’s annual conference from October 19-22, both in Denver.

Harmundi International Music Summit aims to connect students from every continent through the universal language of music for an unprecedented educational experience. This August, the Harmundi Summit will virtually connect 60+ diverse, passionate global students for intensive music training, cross-cultural collaboration, studio recording, and live performance under the mentorship of world-class musicians and producers.

Healthcare Simulation Educational Exchange-Training Ethiopian Nurses to be Emergency First Responders Utilizing Scenario-based Learning team is a training program built in collaboration between experienced healthcare educators from Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina and Dr. Emnet Shimber from Hawassa University/Ethiopia Ministry of Health. The project team will train 200+ nurses to work on local ambulances in Ethiopia’s first national modern Emergency Medical Services (EMS) system in an intensive two week program in June 2023. The Ethiopian local first responders will be trained using high-fidelity simulation manikins, similar equipment used to train paramedics in the United States.

Heartland Alumni Network seeks to create a dynamic and innovative space for ExchangeAlumni in Kansas and Missouri to connect with fellow alumni, collaborate on important community issues, and engage in storytelling. The Heartland Alumni Network will build a strong community that serves as a voice for exchange program alumni by holding in-person community engagement activities, accessible Zoom luncheons, and disseminating information about opportunities for local alumni in the community and abroad.

Immigration in the U.S.: Changing Landscapes and Emerging Issues will host a three-part workshop in to connect social justice advocates, U.S. ExchangeAlumni, academic institutions, and refugee communities in Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles and facilitate collaborative, cross-cultural, and multisector platform for dialogue and exchange on current trends and barriers affecting immigrant communities seeking international protection in the United States today.

Inspiring Environmental Stewardship Through Birding will use bird observation to engage children in rural Costalegre in Jalisco, Mexico with their natural environment and inspire them to promote sustainable conservation in their communities. The Costalegre area features high avian diversity, many of which are endemic to the local area; it is also a place of natural beauty with proximity to tourism destinations. While its location offers unique opportunities to develop sustainable ecotourism projects, the area also suffers land degradation due to cattle grazing and slash and burn agricultural practices. This project aims to positively shape the environmental attitudes and perceptions of the next generation by increasing engagement with the natural surroundings and nurturing future employment opportunities in ecotourism.

International Peek will introduce youth from the rural Delta region of Arkansas to careers in international affairs and engagement through music and art from other cultures. This project seeks to break down barriers and open doors by providing an opportunity for young people from an often marginalized region to gain exposure to global perspectives and career paths they may not have otherwise considered.

International VermiComposting will connect elementary school students in Missoula, Montana and Nepal through an educational opportunity to learn about the impact of food waste and ways to use vermicomposting to combat climate change. Vermicomposting uses earthworms to eat food scraps and to create nutritious soil. This project aims to use this win-win collaboration with nature to help elementary school students make a global impact. 

Mapping and Traceability: Fighting Rural Depopulation with New Technologies uses two low-cost, interactive, and easily accessible tools to promote the entry of young people from Santuario, Risaralda into the coffee sector. There has been a growing concern in many coffee communities in Columbia as a lack of generational handover and know-how has led to declines in coffee production and quality amidst a depopulation trend in rural areas due to the lack of job opportunities. By providing tools to map one’s farm and set up traceability mechanisms, the team intends to create a foundation for further incursion of local youth into the digital space and continue exploring the countless opportunities that exist at the intersection of coffee production and technology.

Nepal Dalit Youth Writing Workshop will engage 12 Dalit youth in Nepal in a creative writing and storytelling workshop in order to build self-determination, self-expression, and empower them to share their personal narratives. The writing workshop will include innovative and interdisciplinary sessions and culminate in a literary journal filled with short stories, essays, and poetry. Participants will share their stories and engage in dialogue around caste, discrimination, identity, and culture as they build their literacy skills. 

Once Upon a Future – Fostering Youth Development in Nigeria Through the Arts aims to build the capacity of secondary school students in Nigeria who are interested in creative and performing arts. This project attempts to encourage talented young Nigerians ages 8-17 from both public and private schools in Ogun State to pursue their interests in the arts. Selected participants will undergo trainings and rehearsals every week for three months, and host a final showcase featuring both musical stage plays and an art exhibition in Abeokuta, Ogun State.

Rarámuri Cultural Reclamation Program aims to empower Rarámuri women to become cultural instructors for Rarámuri youth in El Oasis, a government-funded Indigenous settlement in Chihuahua City, Mexico, comprised of 500 displaced Rarámuri people from the Sierra Tarahumara. The project team will work in close partnership with Rarámuri educator Amalia Holguin, who has experience teaching folklore and crafts classes to Rarámuri children, to develop a formalized curriculum for training other women in the community. The result will be a cultural class program designed by Rarámuri women for their children. The team hopes to develop a scalable program to reach more children in El Oasis, and in other Rarámuri communities throughout the city. 

Riverside Chats: Community Conversations towards Protecting Alabama’s Freshwater Resources will bring together state-level legislators, NGOs, and local community members to share and learn about Alabama’s watershed. The state of Alabama is rich in freshwater resources and the greatest freshwater biodiversity in the country. State-level legislators and the general public, however, lack opportunities to learn about the importance of Alabama’s freshwater resources. This disconnect has contributed to extensive threats to the sustainable and equitable management of Alabama’s freshwater resources, as Alabama waterways are increasingly impacted by drought and the state ranks second in species extinctions. By facilitating community conversations, this project aims to improve the management and protection of Alabama’s 132,000+ miles rivers and streams. 

Seeds of Life seeks to raise awareness of environmental preservation and promote the benefits of arboriculture by empowering local youth from the Al Mawla Soulaimane School System to plant organic fruit trees in the Marrakech region of Morocco. The team will design an educational program, build partnerships in Morocco and abroad, and engage with the Albhira Alwossta Association to acquire the necessary greenhouse materials and seeds to facilitate long term sustainability for the region’s schools in the face of climate change and desertification.

Sew Successful: Economic and Social Empowerment for Afghan Refugee Women Artisans aims to address key issues facing newly arrived Afghan refugee women: lack of income opportunities outside the home and the isolation and loneliness inherent in moving to a new country and culture with no family, friends, or community ties. For many Afghan refugee women, the art and craft of sewing cultivates community, brings the familiar into an otherwise largely unfamiliar setting, and provides them with a marketable skill. This project will provide Afghan refugee women in the Washington, DC area with a series of hands-on sewing classes to help them to make quality products that can be sold to supplement their income, while deepening connections to their community.

Storytelling for Empowerment and Reproductive Health with Adolescents in the Amazon will build community and empower young mothers who experienced adolescent pregnancy in the Peruvian Loreto region of the Amazon through a digital storytelling workshop. Guided by the workshop theme of “#GirlsCan” or “#ChicasPueden,” developed in partnership with Dr. Magaly Blas, Mamas del Rio, and Universidad Cayetano, participants will share their stories and create short-form videos. After the workshop, the videos will be shared with local community leaders and national policymakers to increase awareness of adolescent pregnancy, access to healthcare in Loreto, and funding for future initiatives to benefit community members.

Strengthening Community and Mental Health Through Improvisation will engage with theaters and mental health experts in Pakistan to increase mental health awareness, de-stigmatize mental illness, and encourage connection amongst vulnerable populations. Participants will attend workshops on the improvisational mindset to develop strategies for connecting with others, overcoming anxiety, and articulating ideas around mental health in innovative, refreshing ways. Specific focus will be given to teaching improvisational techniques so that directors, educators, and mental health professionals will be able to continue this vital work with varied communities and populations.

Supporting the Civic and Democratic Participation and Persistence of Girls in Benin seeks to empower girls to remain in school and inspire them to become civically engaged citizens. The project will integrate service learning, civic education, and civic engagement into curricula in targeted areas of Benin to support both girls’ education and their development of democratic civic engagement. The project will use civic engagement to promote educational persistence and educational retention, and in turn, support pathways for girls to continue to be civically engaged as graduates. 

Sustainable Agricultural Development and Value-Addition Opportunities in the Virunga Foothills of Kisoro, Uganda will leverage existing environmental clubs at local secondary schools to select students eager to identify economic opportunities that will sustainably enhance their community. Through a two-day training event, the students will gain first-hand knowledge from local Kisoro business and community leaders on best practices to start, manage, operate, and scale environmentally conscious economic opportunities in their communities. The skills and economic opportunities gained during this event will then be shared back to the schools and homes of the students. Highlights of the event will be shared and archived through a film showcasing this effort.

TeamBeats Argentina will bring Hip Hop artists from the United States and Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina for a one-week residency of presentations, workshops, performances, and trainings for adults and youth. The project team, working in collaboration with Juan Pablo Garrido Marchant (aka Pracnes) and Professor Martin A. Biaggini at the National University Arturo Jauretche, will identify and train a cohort of local musicians and youth development providers in the Therapeutic Beat Making model to provide a sustainable opportunity for youth to engage in a powerful therapeutic and social intervention that builds skills and literacies for mental health and economic development.

Toktogul Preschool Teacher Training and Summer Program aims to address the critical scarcity of access to quality early childhood education in Kyrgyzstan, where only 20% of preschool-aged children are able to attend preschool, and only a fraction of those children are able to attend a program that uses modern, evidence-based methods. This project will invite master preschool teachers from the United States to help develop a summer preschool program designed to address the concerns expressed by local parents, namely the lack of high-quality teachers, hands-on curriculum, and early English instruction and exposure. The team will lead a five-day teacher training in Kyrgyzstan, followed by a six-week pilot run of the preschool program. By the end of the project, teachers will return to their own preschools armed with a new set of teaching skills, experiences, and resources for hands-on, evidence-based activities.

Using Community on-Farm Research Projects to Educate and Empower Farming Communities will coordinate an on-site, farmer-led research project to investigate how local natural resources (oyster shells) can be used to address acidic soils in The Gambia, empower an agricultural community to develop the tools needed to combat the effects of climate change, and support the development of a circular economy between farmers and oyster harvesters. Through a series of trainings and workshops on topics including on experimental research design; soil, plant and pest soil collection; simple data interpretation; and general pH management techniques, farmers will develop a simple research project to improve soil health and improve crop yields, and deliver a presentation of their findings. 

Youth Artpreneurship Training aims to equip youth ages 18-21 in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe with skills to create positive change in their communities, particularly around environmental protection. By providing training in social entrepreneurship and digital literacy, this project seeks to tackle the lack of opportunities for youths to develop social entrepreneurial skills, while also inspiring and empowering youths to become leaders in their communities and create a sustainable future for all. The project also provides community-building opportunities for participants to share insights with their peers in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Youth Can Design works with middle schoolers, architecture students, and local artists in Marseille, France to reimagine their city through interactive place-making workshops. Marseille is one of France’s oldest and most segregated cities, and has a history of struggle due to conflict, high unemployment, and urban violence in some communities. Using the structure of Harvard’s “Design for the Just City” program, the project team will implement workshops that help youth produce local stories about their neighborhoods and the impacts of gentrification. This project is an international dialogue about public space, activism, and art that aims to inspire participants to observe, reflect, and create imagery about a desirable public space and visually showcase youth perspectives by projecting images onto the walls.

Youth Hub Ukraine: Serving Internally Displaced Children will address the critical challenge of serving internally displaced children living in Chernivtsi (western Ukraine) after fleeing conflict zones and areas affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The project team will help children with special educational needs displaced due to the war by providing them with a safe, accessible school and connecting them with skilled international specialists for creative and collaborative lessons in math, science, art, language, computers, and physical education. The team also will develop curricula and teacher training materials that will be posted online for use by other educators and caregivers serving children with special needs displaced by conflict.

This article has been edited for length. Read the full announcement on the U.S. Department of State ExchangeAlumni website here.