by Daniel Obst, President & CEO of AFS Intercultural Programs
Last month, I had the opportunity to meet with Ambassador Elbio Rosselli, who serves as the Permanent Representative of Uruguay to the United Nations. Ambassador Rosselli is, of course, also an AFS alum. In 1964 he left Uruguay for the first time in his life to study abroad in the USA. This was a turning point in Ambassador Rosselli’s life, as he will go on to hold high-level positions such as the Ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg, Head of Mission to the European Communities, and most recently as the President of the United Nations Security Council. But he is certain it all started with AFS: it was his year abroad that got him into a career in international affairs, and prepared him for the many challenges of being a diplomat and public servant.
Meeting Ambassador Rosselli made me reflect on the important work AFS has been doing since our founding and the work we will be doing in the years ahead, informed by our new strategy. I am inspired by the work and progress AFS is making around the world to develop active global citizens, globalize schools and institutions, and expand access to intercultural education. Here are a just a few recent examples of new initiatives, new partnerships or new funded programs that demonstrate AFS’s growing impact:
- The investments of AFS South Africa into social entrepreneurship trainings for alumni and volunteers has been getting great results. Started through the Sawa Sawa program in 2015 and continued through more trainings until today, South African alumni have gone on to volunteer at soup kitchens, engage with youth activists from Palestine, champion gender equality at university lectures and offer English and IT lessons in rural areas.
- The Secretariat of Education in Paraíba in Brazil sponsored 25 Brazilian students with full scholarships to spend one semester in Portugal through the “Gira Mundo” (“Spin the World”) program. The students are hard at work to improve their global competence and develop community projects they will implement upon returning home. At the same time, AFS Brazil is already working with AFS Colombia on the next round of these government-sponsored programs that provide opportunities for more public school students to have access to an intercultural education.
- AFS Czech Republic has received two significant grants from the European Social Fund and the national Ministry of Youth, Education and Sport. Both these grants will go a long way towards educating teachers and supporting volunteer development in Czech Republic, and are an important recognition of AFS’s work so far.
- AFS India started championing a new regional class exchange program to facilitate exchanges among schools from different parts of India, giving teachers and students a great opportunity for intercultural learning within their own country.
- 116 U.S. students received full scholarships to study abroad through AFS-USA’s Faces of America program in 2017, which advances access and inclusion and ensures that AFS program participants are reflective of the full spectrum of diversity in the country.
- AFS New Zealand was invited by Education New Zealand, the government agency, to become an official content partner for the New Zealand International Education Conference and Expo (NZIEC), an event with a 21-year-long tradition of bringing together more than 700 international education leaders from around the world. AFS will offer sessions on the Global Competence Certificate (GCC), the Mapping Generation Z study, Student and Host Family Learning Journey Curricula, and facilitate two pre-conference workshops this August in Wellington.
Finally, I was deeply honored to be able to participate in AFS Japan’s Volunteer Assembly and to meet with so many of the volunteers, board and staff who are committed to the AFS mission and eager to find ways to expand their impact in Japan and around the world. As part of that trip, I visited Hiroshima for a meeting with the Chairman of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation. What most impressed me about the meeting with Chairman Yasuyoshi Komizo was how forward-looking he was and how much importance he placed on working with young people to help prevent future conflict and war.
As we we left the meeting and walked around the Peace Memorial Park, we stopped at the Children’s Peace Monument which commemorates the thousands of child victims of the atomic bombing. There are many glass cases that contain thousands of paper cranes, which are known as a symbol of peace. Each year, almost 10 million cranes are sent or offered by people around the world. As I stood and looked more closely at one of the display cases, I noticed something special: An offering from students from AFS Canada.
I am thankful to AFS volunteers, staff, alumni and friends for advancing our mission and look forward to working with them on empowering people of all ages and all backgrounds to be active global citizens and make a positive difference at home and around the world.