According to a 2012 American Psychological Association report, girls growing up in underserved populations face increased risk of mental illness, depression, anxiety, and poor self-esteem – all of which can negatively affect girls’ success in the classroom, workforce, and relationships. The MENA-USA Empowering Resilient Girls Exchange (MERGE) inspires participants to learn about their own mental health and develop emotional resilience, and, in turn, share this knowledge with their communities through a public-facing website.

MERGE is a series of eight-week open enrollment virtual exchanges for 15–19-year-old girls in the United States and the Middle East/North Africa. In the first week, participants explore, learn, and share practical approaches to building resilience within themselves and their communities. Participants are introduced to each other and their small group facilitator through a variety of cultural exchange activities. The next five weeks are devoted to introducing a range of stress-relief and coping techniques, which the participants experiment with individually and in small groups. Specific techniques include journaling, exercise, meditation, positive thoughts and affirmations, and nutrition. Participants will learn the science behind each strategy and why building these skills in themselves and their communities is beneficial. During the exchange’s final two weeks, participants will work in five-person teams, with the guidance of their facilitator, to showcase their newfound knowledge by creating an entry for the program’s culminating mental resilience strategies website.


Global Ties U.S. completed two program iterations during the 2021-2022 academic year, engaging nearly 300 girls and young women, with approximately 100 from the United States and 200 from Middle East/North African countries including Egypt, Morocco, Iraq, and Jordan. Participants were recruited with the help of several of our Community-Based Members, including Council for International Visitors to Iowa Cities, Global Ties Akron, the San Diego Diplomacy Council, the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth, and the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire. In Jordan, Reclaim Childhood recruited participants from low-income Jordanian communities, as well as refugee populations. TIBU Maroc recruited from its sports empowerment programs across Morocco.

Based on our pre- and post-program questionnaires, participants reported two primary impacts from the exchange. First, they increased their openness to people from different cultures, and specifically participants from the United States learned about Middle Eastern/North African cultures and vice-versa. Second, the participants learned new skills for coping with stressors that they will be able to apply in their lives. Further project impact will come through participants sharing those skills in their communities.

Future Activities

Global Ties U.S. received funding from the Stevens Initiative to implement two additional cohorts of the MERGE program during the 2022-23 academic year. We look forward to building on our successes in Cohorts I and II and sharing the lessons of the MERGE program to new participants. Cohort III took place from September 26 – November 18, 2022, while Cohort IV will start in February 2023.

We will be working to recruit participants with the help of several of our Community-Based Members, including WorldChicago, the International Center of the Capital Region, WorldOrlando, and Global Ties Sacramento.

Interested in Participating?

Global Ties U.S. has now opened applications for MERGE Cohort IV Participants. More information about the program and the application process to participate is linked on this page.

The MENA-USA Empowering Resilient Girls Exchange (MERGE), implemented by Global Ties U.S., is supported by the Stevens Initiative, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and administered by the Aspen Institute. The Stevens Initiative is also supported by the Bezos Family Foundation and the governments of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.

Available opportunities:

Cohort IV Participant Application EXTENDED – Apply

Facilitator Application – Closed