Exchange Matters / August 29, 2023

Engaging Youth and Building the Leaders of Tomorrow

Compiled by Theo Goodchild-Michelman, Communications Intern, Global Ties U.S. 

This August, the Global Ties Network is exploring how international exchange programs like the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) can engage and empower youth leaders. In the snapshots below, International Citizen Diplomacy of Los Angeles reflects on how the performing arts serve as engines for youth empowerment, Global Santa Fe and WorldDenver look back on a disinformation project focused on truth and bridging divides; and The International Center explore the intersection between educational empowerment, community involvement, and youth engagement. 

International Citizen Diplomacy of Los Angeles

IVLP: Engaging Youth through Performing Arts, a Regional Project for the Near East and North Africa

By Kristina Yucel, Communications and Events Coordinator 

In June 2023, International Citizen Diplomacy of Los Angeles (ICDLA), in collaboration with the Institute of International Education, welcomed 11 international visitors from the Near East and North Africa through the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) “Engaging Youth through Performing Arts.” The goal for our LA program was to provide a vision of the performing arts as a force for positive change.  

One particularly memorable meeting was with the Actors’ Gang, an organization dedicated to strengthening communities through theater. IVLP visitors learned about the group’s Gang’s Prison Project, which conducts workshops within California’s correctional system. By promoting tolerance and nonviolent expression, the Gang’s Prison Project is instrumental in reducing recidivism rates and facilitating positive reintegration into society. Another organization that showcased the transformative power of poetry, music, and ritual in peace-making was Street Poets Inc. Street Poets was born in a Los Angeles County juvenile probation camp and has since extended their outreach to communities around the world, spreading healing and positive change through creative expression. 

A dozen people dressed casually pose for picture in medium sized room.

Actors’ Gang with IVLP visitors. Photo provided by Rania Hijazeen.

The visitors were also inspired by Inner-City Arts, an organization providing  diverse, at-risk youth with hands-on arts education. The work of this group demonstrated how the power of the arts can foster positive change. During a meeting with Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA), a nonprofit youth center offering arts, athletics, and educational programs for disadvantaged youth, the visitors learned about HOLA’s Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA) program. This program enriches the lives of nearly 1,700 young musicians by offering free instruments, intensive music instruction, academic support, and leadership training. 

Picture of four people mid-conversation in an art classroom.

Bob Bates, Co-Founder, Artistic Director of Inner-City Arts (second from the left) with IVLP visitors. Photo provided by Rania Hijazeen.

These meetings empowered the visitors and the presenters, reaffirming everyone’s belief in the universal potential of the arts to shape societies and foster positive change. As the visitors return to their home countries, they carry with them insights and experiences that will continue to fuel their efforts to promote social change through the transformative power of art both in their communities and globally. 

Global Santa Fe

IVLP: 21st Century Changemakers: Engaging Youth in the Battle Against Disinformation
NPA: Meridian International Center 

By James Escobedo, Intern, International Exchanges

With the complexity of the modern world, one of the biggest challenges we face is in discerning fact from fiction. All too often, widespread falsehoods can seize control of the narrative and dramatically shape public opinion on important issues. The recent conflict between Ukraine and Russia has demonstrated this, with media and public opinion becoming almost a second battlefield. It is with all of this in mind that we at Global Santa Fe were thrilled to welcome a group of journalists, government officials, educators, and more to share our resources in media literacy and outreach. As part of  the 21st Century Changemakers: Engaging Youth in the Battle Against Disinformation project, which ran from July 13 – July 19, they met with newspaper editors, ambassadors, and local youth group leaders, all focused on this common mission.  

Coming primarily from Eastern Europe and Central Asia, most of our group had never been to the United States before. I remember one comment a guest from Kosovo made, mentioning how Washington D.C. resembled Europe to him, and it was only in Santa Fe that he felt like he was in America.  

A highlight of the trip was being able to connect with Ambassador Vicki Huddleston, formerly the United States Ambassador to both Mali and Madagascar, and a Foreign Service Officer who has served in Cuba, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, and others. She had a wealth of insight to share as to how propaganda and media can dramatically shape the national conversation of a given country, and the importance of making sure that truth is paramount. They also had an excellent meeting with Phil Casaus, editor and columnist for the Santa Fe New Mexican, a local newspaper that had been involved with breaking news of a bribery scandal in state government.  

IVLP visitors pose for a group photo in Santa Fe. Photo provided by Global Santa Fe.


IVLP: 21st Century Changemakers: Engaging Youth in the Battle Against Disinformation
NPA: Meridian International Center 

By Liz Shaw, Program Officer 

WorldDenver had the pleasure of hosting a dynamic, energetic delegation in July 2023 on a project titled, “21st Century Changemakers: Engaging Youth in the Battle Against Disinformation.” Our own youth-focused initiative, the World Affairs Challenge, acutely reminds us that program topics such as this are extremely relevant both to our country and to the countries represented by this delegation.   

During their time in Denver, this group discussed legislation that established the Colorado Department of Education’s Media Literacy Resource Bank with a state senator, spoke with two university professors about their research into social and digital media usage among young people, learned about community-based programming to encourage civic engagement among young people in Denver, and wrote poetry with a local organization whose programming aims to develop resilience in the community among young people through art.  

Group of seven young people pose for a picture in front of the hilly Colorado landscape.

The IVLP visitors pose for a photo while exploring the Colorado landscape. Photo provided by Liz Shaw.

The most inspiring thing about this group was their commitment to building connections across differences. While their interests and professional fields were diverse from politics to teacher training to digital media each visitor took full advantage of every meeting to listen to each other and to community speakers, finding inspiration and common ground. They each contributed their unique perspectives to the conversations in pursuit of leaving with a better understanding of how to build social cohesion in societies with ever-growing ranges of opinions, experiences, and beliefs. Forming genuine relationships with each other and our communities is critical, especially for young people. This program in particular underscored the power and importance of intercultural exchange: sharing ideas, experiences, and best practices and supporting each other in our endeavors helps to build a stronger foundation for us all.  

The International Center  

IVLP: Community, Library, and Youth Engagement Centers
NPA: Meridian International Center 

By Neelam Patel, International Visitors Program Manager 

Twenty people pose for picture in front of a Boys & Girls club banner,

The IVLP visitors meet with representatives of the Boys & Girls Club. Photo provided by Neelam Patel.

From June 18 – June 22, The International Center had the honor of hosting 13 visitors from Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia to engage on the topic of “Community, Library, and Youth Engagement Centers.” In partnership with Meridian International Center, this exchange aimed to foster collaboration between participants and educational empowerment and youth engagement organizations in the United States. The program brought together librarians, educators, and community leaders to exchange knowledge, best practices, and innovative ideas. 

 The program coincided with the Juneteenth holiday, and this provided a great opportunity to show the visitors the Historic Indiana Avenue Black Entertainment District. Additionally, we explored the Kurt Vonnegut Library & Museum where we had a wonderfully candid conversation about freedom of expression and book bans in Indiana, the United States at large, and the visitors’ respective homes, unpacking how such events affect youth, schools, and libraries. 

In the following days, the group met with both funders of youth programs, including the Lilly Endowment Inc., and organizations implementing programs that support youth from underserved communities, including Butler University, the Boys & Girls Club of Indianapolis, and the Indianapolis Public Library. At Butler University, the visitors met with teachers and students of the NextTech Catapult Program, which provides coding education and resources to students from underserved backgrounds. The IVLP participants were excited to hear from the students about their projects, which included websites and virtual games.

Large group of people pose for picture in large classroom.

The visitors meet with teachers and students of the NexTech Catapult Program. Photo provided by Neelam Patel.

The group met with the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the largest children’s museum in the world, and had the opportunity to explore its exhibits. Here, the visitors reflected on how the museum’s Power of Children exhibit teaches children the power of words, action, voice, and education through the stories of Anne Frank, Malala Yousafzai, Ruby Bridges, and Ryan White. Our partners at the Children’s Museum were equally thrilled to hear about the programs the visitors are implementing in their own countries, and they welcomed the opportunity to collaborate and connect with them in the future, virtually bringing the Children’s Museum’s offerings to students globally.  

The visitors left not only excited to collaborate with their counterparts in the United States, but also with each other in their home countries.