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 have a deleterious impact on 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 skills – 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. Participants explore, learn, and share practical approaches to building mental 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 about 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.
In two program iterations during the 2021-2022 academic year, MERGE will meaningfully engage 400 girls and young women, with 200 from the United States, and 200 from Jordan, Morocco, and the Palestinian Territories. An additional 20 university-age facilitators will represent all participating countries and regions. Working with the 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, we expect at least 60% of U.S. participants will come from underserved populations and those attending (or eligible to attend) Title I schools, with a mix of urban and rural communities. In Jordan, Reclaim Childhood will recruit participants from low-income Jordanian communities, as well as refugee populations. TIBU Maroc will recruit from its sports empowerment programs across Morocco.
The MENA-USA Empowering Resilient Girls Exchange (MERGE) 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.