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Project Design and Management Workshop Reflection

June 25, 2014

On May 18-23 in Zanzibar, Tanzania, IRIS hosted  a three-day Project Design and Management (PDM) workshop for YES alumni from Tanzania, Nigeria, Mozambique, Kenya, and South Africa.  The workshop was a collaborative effort between IRIS and American Councils for International Education and was the first YES alumni event ever hosted by IRIS.

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The workshop aimed at providing participants with the necessary tools to develop and implement great alumni projects in their home communities. During the workshop, participants were able to develop a shared understanding of concepts, strategies, and skills for project design and management, as well as utilize those skills to develop successful projects in their communities.


YES alumni met with one another and worked in an active workshop setting to develop a community project. At the end of the workshop, teams of two presented their plans for their community projects, with the goal being to implement the project within six months after the workshop.


The YES alumni first learned how to develop a project from the planning stages. Other stages included budgeting, monitoring, and completion of the project.


Christine Odera, one of the participants from Kenya, was able to understand how she could use her skills, talents, and resources in her own community project, “Many are times, we (YES alumni) have good ideas but we don’t understand how to implement them. It is difficult because we really don’t know that we have assets as individuals that we can use. The workshop helped me identify just how valuable I can be. I have a laptop, I am literate and fluent in English, and that’s even before combining the other assets from other local and national partners.”


Not only did the workshop allow the YES alumni to understand the tools and resources they already have, but it also taught them how to assess their community needs and determine how best to address them in their project. Alumni were able to combine their personal ideas for community change with the actual needs of the community. At the end of the workshop Christine states, “Now I am confident in distinguishing between my own desires and what is really needed in my community.”


Workshop attendees also learned ways to implement their projects from the planning stages by developing clearly laid out plans with both quantitative and qualitative goals. Furthermore, YES alumni learned about resources and budgeting. Christine states, “Resources and budgeting are the reason why so many people have problems implementing their brilliant ideas into the community. From the workshop, I was taught how to effectively write a budget and how to ensure that cost sharing is put in place.” Alumni were also able to understand how to write proposals through workshop activities.


Ultimately, the PDM workshop was able to give YES alumni the skills and knowledge they need to confidently pursue their community projects. Christine says that because of the workshop, “I will challenge myself to open myself to new challenges and more community projects. I am currently working on a reproductive health project that I am hoping to implement in a years’ time.”





Reflecting On The IRIS Host Family Experience A Year Later

May 23, 2014

It’s almost time for IRIS YES students to leave Iowa and return to their home countries with all they have experienced and learned over the last 10 months. Although IRIS YES students will be focused on creating a legacy in their home countries, they have also left an impact with their Iowa communities and host families.

Mark and Julia of West Liberty hosted an IRIS student during the 2012-2013 year and offer a reflection on the impact that their IRIS student, Mohammed, left on their lives.

“We recognize that the world is made up of people with many different opinions and views about life and about the things that effect each and all of us, but our IRIS ‘son’, Mohammed, affirmed our belief that we can respect each other even if some of our views are not the same, keep a Mohammed1
sincere smile and benefit from our shared knowledge and experiences.

We had expected not to host an exchange student this past year, though we had planned to host another student the following year. As the school year progressed, we missed all of the interactions with Mohammed and felt compelled to host another student. We are now looking forward with enthusiastic anticipation toward welcoming another IRIS student fo262657_458433174215671_1932557630_nr the coming school year

Our family seems to be more “normal” with an added member in the household. Hosting an IRIS student gives us a connection with a part of the world that we would not have had otherwise. Our presumption is that the IRIS students have earned the opportunity to be exchange students because of particular qualifications that indicate that they can interact well with others and be good ‘ambassadors’. We are happy to assist them as they do so. We also enjoy finding ways to share as much of our country and culture as we can.”


IRIS students are able to leave a lasting impression on their Iowa communities and families. If you would like to be a part of this experience call the IRIS office at 515-292-7103 or email .

Layers of Diversity

May 13, 2014

Art from the Layers of Diversity exhibit

Layers of Diversity

May 13, 2014

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On May 2-May 4, IRIS held a special exhibit at the Des Moines Art Center that featured Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study student’s artwork. The exhibit allowed the students to artistically express their experiences with diversity in the United States.


IRIS YES studentsThe Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange program is sponsored by the United States Department of State and allows international students to share their culture and experiences with their host families and communities. Each student was selected for the YES program to represent the student’s country and promote international understanding, development, and peace during a yearlong stay with a host family. In August of 2013, 25 YES students from 17 countries arrived in Iowa through IRIS.


The IRIS staff presented each student with a blank canvas and asked them to create collages with the theme of diversity. Each piece features the word “diversity” in the student’s native language and reflects how his or her perspective of diversity has changed through the YES program and living in Iowa.

The Layers of diversity art exhibit was a successful event celebrating the creativity of the YES students and engaging visitors in important
conversations on diversity.

Throughout the weekend, visitors to the Art Center sought out the exhibit and learned about the Department of State YES program and IRIS. On Sunday, May 4th, over 40 students, host families, and community members attended the closing reception which included a tour and discussion on diversity within the permanent collection of art at the Des Moines Art Center, a viewing of the students’ artwork, and a video, highlighting each student, his/her artwork, comments about diversity, and thank you notes to the host families. The local KCCI news anchor Mollie Cooney reported on the story and interviewed Mariam (Egypt).



Celebrate Host Moms!

May 11, 2014

Hosting a Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) student through IRIS offers many fulfilling opportunities. Host families are able to experience different cultures and learn from their host student, but there is also a bond that is formed between the students and their host moms.


In honor of Mother’s Day, here are a few stories describing the bond between IRIS YES students and their host moms.


Ella and Her Host Mom“My host mom is very smart and knows how to solve problems.

I can remember coming back from school one day very sad. She tried to find out what was wrong with me. She is very caring. When I told her about a problem I had in a class, she suggested ways of helping to solve my problem. She knows how to light up my day. I’ll miss going shopping with her, her funny stories and her cheerful self. She knows how to be herself: obeying rules, cheerful, caring and nice. “


–       Ella (Nigeria), Iowa City High School


“My mom is a very cool Korean Mom! She knows my feelings. She is a really great woman. She encourages me to try so many things. Without her I would have missed out on a lot of things during my exchange year, such as running and joining track.


My host mom is caring. She really cares about me. About my health, my feelings, my happiness, she cares about me, she cares about my school and everything. Mom is really caring.


I will miss my host mom’s voice that always tells me the right way to do things, her laugh, and when she just talks to me. I will miss her hugs too.


My hostmom is really amazing! I am really glad to live with her and know her. She takes care of me like we are family.”


– Jaya (Indonesia), Davenport West High School


Aleyna and her host mom“My host mom, Sandy, is an amazing person. She has a heart of gold; she is so kind and caring. From the moment we met, she always made sure I was having the best time and many unique experiences. She has made such a big impact in my life, taught me a lot of important life lessons. My life would not be the same if she was not there for me, and I am so thankful for that. I will miss sitting down and talking to her.. also baking with her! I love to spend time in the kitchen with her. She not only makes the best American food I’ve ever had and will ever have, but also is open to try new things such as Turkish Food.”


–       Aleyna (Turkey), Marshalltown High School



Anu and her host mom“Everything is special about my host mom. She is really determined and confident in her life. She makes decisions that are favorable to everyone around her. She is really helpful to all the people and very much openhearted. She plays with us like a small kid sometimes but at the same time she is strict about certain things. I am proud to be her daughter this year. We go and hang out at places and enjoy spending time during weekends and during other holidays. I will really miss her when I go back to India.”


–       Anupama (India),  Des Moines Hoover High School


“She loves her kids and she is very caring.  A woman who is very pure in heart, loves to get involve with what her unnamed-3kids do like their school sport. She is patient and loves to help when one has a problem. Kind, nice, tolerant, loving and honest.  Her sincerity and niceness. I really love my host mom and my host family and I will definitely miss them. I am so glad I meet my host family, they are awesome.”


– Gideon (Nigeria), Grundy Center




As a host family, you will not only be able to experience the depth of diversity each student has to offer, but you will be able to form a bond that can last a lifetime. If you are interested in being a host family or have questions, please contact Tim at 515.292.7103 or

IRIS and Social Sustainability

May 7, 2014


Rachel shares information about IRIS at the Earth Day celebration

Last week, Program Assistant Rachel Cramer attended an Earth Day event at Iowa State University. The event acted as a showcase of

sustainability-related community and student organizations and was hosted by Iowa State University Live Green and the student group, The Green Umbrella. The event allowed students, faculty, and staff to learn more about the sustainable efforts happening their community.


Why Did IRIS Attend?

It’s easy to wonder why IRIS attended an Earth Day event, because isn’t sustainability all about the environment? Sustainability is actually made up of three different areas including social sustainability, financial sustainable, and environmental sustainability. The IRIS program does a lot to support each kind of sustainability.

Sustainability Venn Diagram

Sustainability Venn Diagram

The main missions of IRIS are all related to social sustainability. Social sustainability focuses on building communities so they are diverse and in which every community member is able to live and grow. Communities that are socially sustainable allow all members, including those with financial disadvantages, to have equal opportunities and a good quality of life.


IRIS seeks to build communities both in the United States and in the home communities of every student. Students learn how they can be agents for community change while being hosted, and are able to make a positive impact while volunteering. In turn, these students are also able to grow their communities in their home countries by utilizing the skills they have learned to organize projects.



IRIS also encourages diversity and understanding in Iowa. The population in Iowa is about 93% Caucasian. Many smaller communities in Iowa are unable to experience the cultural richness that diversity provides. Through the exchange programs, communities are able to learn more about other cultures and experience diversity.


IRIS programs also assist in environmental sustainability in the home countries of the students. IRIS alumni in Tanzania are currently working on a project that utilizes old tires and glass bottles for a beautification project in Zanzibar.  The recycled tires and glass bottles will gain a new life as landscaping implements at a community garden.


You can help your community be socially sustainable by hosting an IRIS student. For more information about how you can make a positive difference in your community and to answer any questions about IRIS please contact Kim at 515.292.7103 or

Global Youth Service Day

May 6, 2014

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IRIS Nigerian YES alumni celebrated Global Youth Service Day in Tanzania April 11-April 13. Global Youth Service Day is a celebration that encourages millions of young people to make a positive impact in their communities by volunteering. This year, IRIS alumni helped with nine different events.


YES alumni spent time and energy meeting together several weeks before Global Youth Service Day to determine what project they wanted to create in order to both strengthen their communities as well as encourage community involvement. After the IRIS alumni determined what projects they were going to undertake, they registered their projects on the YSA website and promoted their events throughout their communities.


In Zaria Nigeria, alumni helped build their community by visiting the Beth Torrey Home, a center for children with disabilities. The Alumni assisted the center by providing them with donations of various supplies to help maintain operations of the center. Alumni were able to see their impact in the joy and appreciation those at the center offered.


On April 12 in Benue State, alumni were able to assist their community by offering support to refugees. The alumni were able to provide support for these internally displaced people by donating necessary items including soap, anti-malaria drugs, food, and clothing. The alumni were also able to support the refugees by offering therapy to encourage them.


In Gombe state, alumni visited an orphanage. Alumni were able to provide the orphans with milk, toiletries, and other items needed to help operate the orphanage. The alumni were also able to offer support and care to the orphans by taking time to play with them and talking to them.


In Kaduna, alumni participated in two volunteer events including a visit to an orphanage and a peace discussion. Alumni were able to provide support to the orphanage by donating items including soap, food, and clothing. The alumni were also able to inspire the children by sharing their experiences and encouraging them to be active citizens in their community. Alumni also organized a peace discussion that educated community members about peace and tolerance.


Alumni in Plateau were able to contribute in encouraging the health of the community by volunteering to build a health center and by visiting a hospital.  Several YES alumni from Plateau are in medical school and were able to use their knowledge by working to help build a health clinic by molding 64 blocks and building the foundation. At the Evangel Hospital VVF Center, alumni gave a presentation discussing the importance of washing hands. The alumni also offered soap to patients at the hospital.


In Sokoto Nigeria, alumni mobilized to hold an art program and to play soccer with orphans. In honor of Global Youth Services Day, alumni held a drawing event by offering children art supplies and encouraging them to draw. Alumni also visited the Sokoto State orphanage offering donations and spending time teaching the children how to play soccer.



If you would like to encourage this message of global service, you can volunteer at IRIS! If you are interested in volunteering or have questions, please contact Kim at 515.292.7103 or