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IRIS Students Attend Global Youth Leadership Conference

February 18, 2010

On Feb. 5-6, a group of 100 foreign exchange students from 39 countries around the world gathered in Des Moines, to share their diverse perspectives on global issues and to learn skills to take back to their home countries.

Twenty-five of those students represented IRIS’s YES students from Nigeria and Tanzania, Africa. They are scholarship recipients in the Youth Exchange and Study Program, a U.S. State Department initiative.

These students are part of a larger group of 60 African students who, since August, have been living with Iowa host families and studying in Iowa schools through IRIS and the YES Program. Eight of those students live in Congressional District 1 and have been sharing their cultures and ideas with people across the state this year.

At the 14th Annual Iowa Global Youth Leadership Conference, students participated in activities including group skits on global issues, an international trade simulation and a keynote presentation by Dean Jacobs, a world traveler and photographer, as well as several cultural sharing sessions.

“The students from IRIS present a unique opportunity for the other students at the conference, many of whom are from wealthy European countries,” said Ashley Stoddard, an event coordinator. “They contribute to the diversity of ideas and worldviews at the conference in distinct ways that can’t be replicated by students from other countries.”

Students share lessons learned from the conference

At the end of the conference, event organizers opened the stage to allow students to share their final thoughts on their experience.

Eshpa Mollel of Arusha, Tanzania, attends Atlantic High School in Atlantic, Iowa. She kept her words short, but shared about the changes she had noticed in herself.

“What I really learned here is to socialize and be free,” she said. “To use all the resources we have.”

Rachel Mziga is from the Morogoro Region of Tanzania. While in Iowa, she has been living in Hills and attending Iowa City High School.

“Everybody affects something, I believe in that,” she said. “So now, everybody has to make changes. I believe everybody is going to take what we’ve learned here and apply it to the world so that we can make a difference in the future.”

Justin Fuime is also from Morogoro Region. He has been living in Fort Dodge and attends Fort Dodge High School.

“The reason for this kind of a meeting is not just to put a bunch of teenagers together for the sake of being exchange students,” explained Justin, “but to connect them in a certain way that each individual discovers the true meaning of being a part of a growing generation.”

“Meeting these people completely stunned me, because we shared the same instincts as tomorrow’s leaders in spite of our diverse cultures, languages and even skills,” he continued. “I learned that the success of any community doesn’t depend on the amount of resources they have, but on manpower, skills and teamwork. With the proper coordination in these three categories, nothing is unbeatable.”

Mohammed Lawal Saliu is from Benue State, Nigeria. He has been living in Fort Dodge and attends Fort Dodge High School.

“This conference has educated me a lot, because I’ve learned so many leadership skills which will help me in the future,” said Lawal. “I can put them into practice in my community in order for people to learn more about leadership and how leaders are supposed to lead.”

Tijjani Attahir of Sokoto State, Nigeria, has been living in Cedar Rapids and attending Washington High School. He focused on the skits, where groups of students portrayed global issues. His group portrayed education and focused on literacy, access to education and equality.

“With that little play, we all got some ideas of how we ourselves can think of the ways we can help our society, our community, our countries and the world in general,” said TJ.

Mohammed Bello of Kaduna State, Nigeria, has been living in Ankeny and attending Saydel High School.

“The first thing I’ve learned here is tolerance,” he said, “because we came here yesterday not know anybody and ended up sleeping in a room with a bunch of strangers. But we stayed up late talking and getting to know each other more, and now, I can say I have friends from all over the world.”

Yusuf Adam is from Kebbi State, Nigeria. He has been living in Altoona and attends Southeast Polk High School.

“Even though we are teenagers now, we will become the leaders of tomorrow,” said Yusuf. “And we shall try as much as possible to work simultaneously, complimenting one another, to know the skills of negotiation so that we can improve our life situation.”

Victor Yusuf attends Atlantic High School and is from Bauchi State, Nigeria.

“What I learned from this conference is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. It is the statement: ‘The only thing that is greater than quality is equality,’” said Victor. “If we can create equality, then there will be nothing that separates any of us.”

Auwal Ahmed, one of the Muslim students attending the conference, is also from Bauchi State. He has been attending Washington High School in Cedar Rapids.

“We will never achieve peace in this world without eliminating discrimination. Everyone is created equal, but not many people know that Islam also teaches equality,” he said. “We are all leaders, and everyone in this whole world is your brother.”

The Iowa Global Youth Leadership Conference is sponsored by the Iowa Council for International Understanding (ICIU) and The Stanley Foundation.

For more information, visit www.globalyouthleadership.org.

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