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The US/Afghan Junior Investor Program

Goal

To implement a joint peace-building and educational program in American middle and high schools that gives US students the opportunity to build positive relationships with their Afghan peers by teaching one another about their lives. This groundbreaking program will also give US students the opportunity to co-invest in the vocational training of their Afghan peers. US students will learn from their Afghan friends as they receive training to develop sustainable, market-based solutions in order to strengthen their local economies and help them avoid recruitment into insurgent groups as a means to an end.

Problems Addressed

For American youth – American children have little knowledge of the realities of life for young people in other cultures, especially war-affected areas. Due to the war in Afghanistan, many have an inaccurate understanding of Afghan culture and are unable to put a human face to this country. News focused solely on the Taliban and extremist groups leads to widespread stereotyping and distrust of all Afghans.

For Afghan youth – Due to decades of war, Afghanistan has become a breeding ground for extremist ideology and children are its most vulnerable citizens. Over the next three years, millions of students will graduate from high school, however limited university capacity, lack of options and economic opportunities makes the remaining youth highly vulnerable for recruitment by the Taliban and other insurgencies due to a lack of positive stimulation and economic insecurity. Many young Afghans also have an inaccurate and/or negative image of Americans due to lack of exposure and misinformation.

Both sides experience issues of stereotyping (Afghanistan and US) due to lack of communication, leading to fear and distrust, and potentially leading to future problems even after the war is over.

Project Duration/Scope

November 2009-June 2010
Thirteen U.S. classes of 25 students each; 30 Afghan students enrolled in the vocational program

Pilot Program

Step One: Education – Putting a human face on modern Afghan society.
Together with partners in the Cannon Falls, MN, schools and P.E.C.A., a nonprofit organization that builds schools in Afghanistan (www.afghanmodelschool.org), WKR will create a teaching “package” for American middle/high-school teachers to use in their classrooms containing:

  • An educational DVD of contemporary life/culture in Afghanistan:
    • Family traditions, people, meal preparation, weddings, cultural events and activities.
    • Youth in a variety of settings (schools, homes, skateboard parks), activities like letter writing/art, interviews about their lives, demonstrations of things they do for fun (songs, dances, games, sports, etc.).
    • Visits to local businesses, factories, TV/radio stations, women-owned businesses, concerts, museums, an Afghan court, sports facilities, schools/universities, historical sites.
  • This DVD will be broken down into 30-minute teaching segments.
  • Letters/art created by the Afghan kids for the American kids
  • A lesson plan for history, geography and culture, as well as discussion topics on the current lives of the Afghan people; why things are the way they are, etc.

Step Two: Investment – Creating opportunities for kids to change the world.
After finishing the basic curriculum, the American class does a project to raise $100, which will be used to sponsor one Afghan student’s vocational training program for one year. Through this entrepreneurial program, each Afghan student will be able to create a small and viable business by graduation. The purpose of having the U.S. kids do the fundraising is to teach them the relative value of money, as well as give them more personal ownership of the project. Similar to micro-credit lending, the American students are investing in the success of an Afghan student who they will want to see succeed. Instead of a return on a financial investment, the US students will have the opportunity to learn first hand about how the $100 is being used to effect change, thus, following the ripple effect.

While the Afghan student learns their trade of choice (honey production, brick making, fennel oil production, carpentry or tailoring) and is training to be a businessperson in Afghanistan (studying marketing, pricing, distribution, sales, etc), the US sponsoring class also learns at the same time. The curriculum that the Afghans use will be translated into English so that the American teacher/class can witness this education in action. Monthly updates from the Afghan student on how it feels to be a part of this vocational class, be able to ask questions, hear the Afghan student’s thoughts/perceptions will provide an invaluable, multi-faceted learning experience.

After the Afghan student begins business, a percentage of his/her revenues will be co-invested back into the school for long term sustainability of the program for future students.
Upon completion of the course study, the American students will co-invest in the program by teaching their experiences to a younger level class of students.

Outcomes

American youths who participate in this program will:

  • Learn firsthand about the culture and conditions of life in Afghanistan.
  • Share their own culture and build positive relationships with young people in Afghanistan.
  • Take concrete steps to help others in need and feel a personal connection to philanthropy.
  • Demonstrate the goodwill of the American people by making supportive, cross—cultural and interfaith connections in a highly volatile part of the world.
  • Take pride in having a leadership role in the peaceful reconstruction of Afghanistan.
  • Have a leadership role by teaching the curriculum to younger students.

Afghani youths who participate in this program will:

  • Gain a more accurate understanding of the culture of young people in the US.
  • Become empowered by sharing their lives and culture with American children.
  • Contribute to the economic stability of their region.
  • Avoid recruitment into extremist groups and discover new possibilities for their lives.
  • Take pride in having a leadership role in the peaceful reconstruction of their country.
  • Contribute to the economic sustainability of the school.

After the program cycle, WKR will:

  • Reproduce this teaching model to implement in middle and high schools across the US.

Strategy

  1. Partnering with existing schools in both the US and Afghanistan, WKR brings kids on both sides together in a time-efficient, cost-effective and adult-supervised way.
  2. By sponsoring the vocational training fees of the Afghan student in exchange for education, American students are providing program funding and understanding the effects of their donation.
  3. Through the co-investment (financial and educational) of students on both sides we will achieve scalable and sustainable results.

Supporting Organization

Partnership for Education of Children in Afghanistan (Kabul, Afghanistan)


The US/Iraq Young Ambassador Program

Goals

To foster peace, respect and friendship among US and Iraqi teens through a multi-faceted cultural exchange experience; to create marketable evidence of the process and results for the American and international communities to see; to inspire participating kids to embrace their leadership roles beyond completion of the program and reach even larger audiences; to create a teaching template that can be used in middle and high schools nationwide.

Problems Addressed

For American youth – American children have little knowledge of the realities of life for young people in other cultures, especially war-affected areas. Due to the war in Iraq, many have an inaccurate understanding of Iraqi culture and are unable to put a human face to this country. News focused solely on the war and extremist groups leads to widespread stereotyping and distrust of people of Arab descent.

For Iraqi youth – Iraqi teenagers lack exposure to other cultures. Many have negative impressions and ideas about Americans due to lack of exposure, misinformation and stress from the war. This stress leaves many Iraqi youth vulnerable to depression and radicalization by extremist groups. Many have lost their families and homes in the current war and have no constructive outlets to express their pain, fear and frustration.

Project Duration/Scope

January-September 2010
Three classes of 25 US students; three activities/exchanges per class per month

Activities:

  1. January – Letter writing & art exchange
    Iraqi and US students are matched for three rounds of letter/art exchange
  2. February – Video conferencing
    Iraqi and US students participate in three video interviews with one another
  3. March – Joint story-writing activity
    Iraq and US students co-author an adventure story; each side contributes one chapter at each weekly session to create a six chapter book
  4. April – Video co-production & email exchange
    Iraqi and US students each create a video on promoting tolerance and respect among nations to combine into a collaborative YouTube video project (two sessions)
    Iraqi and US students participate in an email exchange (one session)
  5. May – Creation of cultural booklets
    Iraqi and US students design and produce their own teaching tool on their respective cultures to exchange with one another
  6. June – Physical exchange
    US side hosts three Iraqi students for a two-week visit
    Three US students visit Iraqi Kurdistan for two weeks
  7. July/August/September – Young Ambassador Final Projects:
    Participating students in both countries design and implement a leadership/awareness project reflecting their experiences (ie. participating in speaking engagements, radio/TV/newspaper interviews, writing articles, blogging, fundraising for related cause, designing an awareness/advocacy campaign, etc.)

Outcomes

American youths who participate in this program will:

  • Learn firsthand about the culture and conditions of life in Iraq.
  • Share their own culture and build positive relationships with young people in Iraq.
  • Take concrete steps to help others in need and feel a personal connection to philanthropy.
  • Demonstrate the goodwill of the American people by making supportive, cross—cultural and interfaith connections in a highly volatile part of the world.
  • Take pride in having a leadership role in the peaceful reconstruction of Iraq.
  • Have a leadership role by teaching the curriculum to other students and the community at large.

Iraqi youths who participate in this program will:

  • Gain a more accurate understanding of the culture of young people in the US.
  • Become empowered by sharing their lives and culture with American children.
  • Avoid recruitment into extremist groups and discover new possibilities for their lives.
  • Break the cycle of isolation that leads to fear and distrust.
  • Have the tools to work together with the US and lay the foundation for a sustainable peace.

After the program cycle, WKR will:

  • Reproduce this teaching model to implement in middle and high schools across the US.

Supporting organization

Bustan Association for Children’s Media, Culture and Education/BACEMA (Suliemanya, Iraq)