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  • Writer's pictureAbby Fowler

Youth and Civic Engagement: A Multi-Regional Project

Members of the delegation and Communications and Storytelling Intern Jaclin Thompson at the Iowa Women's Basketball Celebration in Iowa City.

This past April 13th to 18th, we hosted a multi-regional IVLP delegation for a program titled “Youth and Civic Engagement.” Members of this delegation had a variety of professions and represented Albania, Bahrain, Ecuador, Italy, Lebanon, Nepal, Poland, and Vietnam. Their time in Iowa aimed to explore leadership, communication, and advocacy strategies to facilitate social empowerment and justice.

Arrival at the airport with volunteers Eddy Djagou and John Menninger.

They arrived at the Eastern Iowa Airport on a Tuesday afternoon and were greeted by volunteers Eddy Djagou and John Menninger. After arriving at their hotel in Iowa City, the rest of their afternoon and evening was free to explore the town. Eastern Iowa was experiencing especially good weather at this time, giving them a great opportunity to walk around and see students and locals out and about.

The next morning, Executive Director Amy Alice Chastain and Program Coordinator Bailey Shafer had breakfast with the delegation at their hotel before they boarded the bus to their first meeting. Ken & Gayle Royar met them in Cedar Rapids at the United Way of East Central Iowa. There, Karey Chase, Vice President of Community Impact, discussed how United Way partners with donors, nonprofit organizations, public policymakers, community leaders, and area businesses to address the challenges faced in the community. 

Meeting with Mayor Nicolas AbouAssaly and members of the Marion Mayor’s Youth Council.

Afterward, they hopped back onto their bus and headed to Marion to meet with Mayor Nicolas AbouAssaly and members of the Marion Mayor’s Youth Council. This program offers high school students in the community the opportunity to engage in monthly meetings with the mayor to discuss ongoing community projects, different jobs in the community, and how current decision-making will impact the city in the long term. They ate lunch together before the delegation returned to Iowa City in the early afternoon.

After a short break, they walked over to their next meeting with the University of Iowa Undergraduate Student Government. Accompanied by Communications Coordinator Abby Fowler and Social Media and Storytelling Intern Jaclin Thompson, they met President Patrick Johnson, Vice President Vera Barkosky, and Cabinet Director Airiana Mohr at the Iowa Memorial Union. They discussed how the Undergraduate Student Government works and the delegation had many questions about their election process and operations.

Ngoc Tuyen Vo of Vietnam speaks at the meeting with the University of Iowa Undergraduate Student Government.

The end of this meeting lined up perfectly with the Iowa Women’s Basketball Celebration, a big event celebrating the team’s successful season with speeches from players and coaches. Jaclin accompanied them to the celebration, and as a former Iowa cheerleader herself, gave them a VIP treatment by introducing them to the Spirit Squad. The delegation was eager to experience campus festivities and had a ton of fun.

On the morning of Saturday, April 15th, the delegation visited Kalona Historical Village as a cultural activity. Their tour included visits to the Amish Dairy Goat Farm and the Kalona Buggy Shop, accompanied by Board member Newman Abuissa.

Eva Vittoria Cammerino of Italy and Daniel Esteban Villamar Merino of Ecuador engage with Girl Scouts at the Journey the World event.

Their afternoon was occupied by Journey the World, an event for Girl Scouts of all ages, their families, friends, and members of the surrounding communities. The visitors, along with Maria Õunap from Estonia, took turns occupying the Global Ties Iowa booth, connecting with local youth and answering questions about culture and life in their home country. They engaged with more than 150 young girls and their families, using a globe to point out their home countries and show how far they traveled to eastern Iowa.

The next day was full of more cultural excursions. In the morning, they visited the Amana Colonies and were accompanied by Board member Katie Ron and her father, a life-long resident of Amana, as tour guide, and had free time to explore and eat lunch. In the afternoon, they went to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art for a self-guided tour, accompanied by Ken and Gayle Royar.

“[I] loved to be exposed to new communities and cultures in the U.S. like the Amish and Mennonites," said participant Edward Bitar of Lebanon. Edward is a co-founder of the youth-led organization Live Love Lebanon. “People were very open to share their traditions and stories with us.”

Afterward, the delegation went to their Iowa Table Dinners. Half of the delegation was hosted by Alissa Meggitt and the other half by Ashley and Matt Laux.

“[It was] such a wonderful experience with [the] American family. We [discussed] your culture and education system with [your] lovely daughters. Big thanks to Ashley and Matt [Laux’s] family for amazing hospitality,” said participant Hem Prasad Poudel of Nepal. Hem is the Program Coordinator of American Corner (AC) Ilam.

(left to right) Daniel Esteban Villamar Merino of Ecuador, Agnieszka Janik of Poland, Hem Prasad Poudel of Nepal, and Ngoc Tuyen Vo of Vietnam at Ashley and Matt Laux's Iowa Table Dinner.

Monday, April 17th, was their final day of programming. They started with a meeting with the Jacobson Institute for Youth at the Iowa City Public Library, accompanied by Bailey Shafer. Director Dawn Bowlus discussed how the program has been instrumental in developing the University of Iowa's youth entrepreneurship programs and in teaching the entrepreneurial mindset to the next generation of young entrepreneurs.

Their final activity was volunteering with Table to Table, an organization that prevents edible food from going to waste by distributing it to those in need. Accompanied by volunteer Steve Merkel-Hess, the delegation helped organize food and load it into the truck.

They departed the next morning bound for San Diego, California.

Picture with Herky the Hawk inside the Iowa Memorial Union.

Thank you to Eddy Djagou, John Menninger, Newman Abuissa, Ken and Gayle Royar, Katie Ron and her father, Abby Fowler, Jaclin Thompson, Ashley and Matt Laux, Alissa Meggitt, Bailey Shafer, Maria Õunap and Steve Merkel-Hess for volunteering with this group. Many of our visitors expressed that Iowa was their favorite part of the program, thanks in no small part to your hospitality and kindness!

“The volunteers [were] so friendly and supportive for every step of our trip. I never felt alone because of them so big thanks to them. I also learned so many things from them about Iowa City [and the] culture and education system of [the] U.S.,” said Hem.

“The volunteers were wonderful and the participants recognized and were grateful for their contributions in making the program successful,” said liaison Ronn Francis.

Thank you also to the United Way of East Central Iowa, Mayor Nicolas AbouAssaly, the Marion Mayor’s Youth Council, the University of Iowa Undergraduate Student Government, the Jacobson Institute for Youth, and Table to Table for acting as our professional resources on this program! Additionally, thank you to the Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois for the invitation to take part in Journey the World. We could not connect the world and the heartland without you all taking the time out of your day to share your knowledge and expertise.


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