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IRIS YES Students Attend Youth Tech Camp

May 1, 2014

On April 6-12, two IRIS YES students, Israa and Ellyssahanna attended a Youth Tech Camp (YTC) in Burlington, Vermont.  Israa and Ellyssahanna were two of 26 students selected for the program, which focused on leadership, public speaking, and technology/social media training skills.


Israa and Ellyssahanna stayed busy from the time they woke up until they went to bed each day of the camp, gaining skills in time management, understanding the different kinds of intelligence, and enjoying fun activities like going to galaxy bowling and attending a Youth Tech Camp prom. Ellyssahanna appreciated the action packed schedule at the Youth Tech Camp stating, “YTC is not all about sitting in a round table and listening to the speaker the whole day, but it includes tons of fun which made the program very engaging and alive”.

Israa and Ella attend the Youth Tech Camp

Israa and Ella attend the Youth Tech Camp


The workshop taught Israa and Ellysshanna how to utilize social media for social change. They both identified an issue in their home countries of Tunisia and the Philippines (respectively) and learned how to use tools including Blogger, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and Twitter to create a social media campaign to drive social change. The camp also gave Israa and Ellysshanna the skills to teach members of their communities to create their own social change campaigns.


Both students gained many valuable skills and motivating experiences throughout their time at the camp. Israa proclaimed that, “This was one of the most exciting workshops I’ve ever attended”. Ultimately Israa and Ellysshanna will be able to take these skills back home with them to make a positive impact in their communities. Mentors helped guide Issra and Ellysshanna in giving them the skills. According to Issra, “The mentors and staff members…are full of awesomeness and they are a tremendous help, they gave us new ideas and strategies that gave us knowledge to have an effective training when we go back home”.

Ellyssahanna at the Youth Tech Camp

Ellyssahanna at the Youth Tech Camp

Not only were the students able to learn from the information and the workshops, but they were able to learn from other camp attendees as well. At a workshop that discussed multiple intelligences, Ellysshanna observed, “It was interesting to see what people are capable of doing, especially when they are out of their comfort zone”. Issra also appreciated the diverse views and skills of her fellow campers stating, “I’ve learned a lot not only from the speakers and mentors, but also from my co-participants and their respective countries. It’s just so amazing how many ideas and opinions came from every student”.


Are you interested in encouraging opportunities like these?  Help international students cultivate skills by volunteering as a host family with IRIS.  If you are interested in being a host family or have questions, please contact Tim at 515.292.7103 or



Celebrate IRIS Student and Volunteer Achievements at the Story County Youth Volunteer Awards

April 29, 2014

The Story County Youth Volunteer Awards, taking place Tuesday, April 29 at 7PM in the Iowa State Memorial Union Sun Room, is an event that recognizes outstanding young volunteers in the Story County community.


This year, one IRIS student and one IRIS volunteer will be recognized at the reception ceremony. They will both receive a framed certificate signed by Governor Terry Branstad.



Youth Exchange and Study (YES) student, Faris, is being honored with this award for the variety of community service he has been involved with in the Ames community. During his time here, Faris has completed 53 hours of volunteer service. He has volunteered for many events and organizations including Food at First meals, the Volunteer Center of Story County Winter Weatherization Event, and at the Ames Public Library. Through these experiences, Faris has gained the knowledge and volunteer skills that will help him make a positive impact on his community when he is in his home country of Jordan.


IRIS volunteer, Erin, a sophomore at Iowa State University, is also being recognized. Erin has volunteered more than 25 hours to the IRIS program in the last five months.  Erin is not simply a volunteer. Through her contributions, Erin has offered great ideas to make the IRIS program stronger and more beneficial to the international participants who are in Iowa. Erin was actively involved in the IRIS 20th anniversary celebration. Erin’s family contributed to her interest in IRIS and spirit of volunteerism by hosting YES student, Nathan, this year. With Erin’s involvement in IRIS, she has not only been able to make an impact in the Story County community, but she’s been able to make an impact across the globe as well.


IRIS students and volunteers are truly able to make an impact in their local communities and in the greater global community. IRIS congratulates both Faris and Erin on their outstanding accomplishments.


IRIS could not do the great work we do without the tireless efforts of our volunteers.  If you are interested in volunteering or have questions, please contact Kim at 515.292.7103 or


IRIS YES Students and the World Food Prize Iowa Youth Institute

April 21, 2014

On Monday, April 14th, ten IRIS YES students participated in the World Food Prize Iowa Youth Institute to engage in discussions on international food issues and interact with leading scientists, policy makers and humanitarians. Tripling in size within three years, over 230 scholars and 120 educators from across the state attended the event held on the Iowa State University campus in Ames. With their diverse cultural backgrounds, the IRIS YES students brought a unique element of international perspective and understanding to the event.


Each scholar was required to write a research paper focusing on a specific country and factor affecting food security. They shared their research and solutions to a small group of fellow scholars and two or three expert facilitators in roundtable discussions, receiving feedback and answering questions. This component of the Institute encourages students to dig deeper into complicated issues and envision creative solutions. Participants also attended immersion sessions on the Iowa State campus to learn about cutting-edge research and career paths connected to science, technology, policy and other fields relevant to agriculture and development. One of the highlights from the event was the keynote speech by the 2010 World Food Prize Laureate and former CEO of Heifer International, Jo Luck.


Between the morning and afternoon sessions, students were able to speak one-on-one with experts and policy makers during a luncheon. Nathan Swartz, one of our YES students from South Africa had the opportunity to sit with Governor Branstad and Iowa State University President Leath, discussing his life in the US and the KL-YES program. Nathan commented after the event, “I was so glad I got to network with people in those positions because who knows, the door to new opportunities might be standing right in front of me.” Nathan currently lives with a host family in Delmar, Iowa, and would like to attend Iowa State University to study agronomy.


Like Nathan, other IRIS students have expressed interest in pursuing new career paths due to their positive experiences in Iowa. Aleyna Bakirli, one of our students from Turkey, remarked that she would not have considered a career connected to food security and agriculture if it had not been for her experience living in Marshalltown, Iowa, and participating in the Iowa Youth Institute and the Global Youth Institute.


Since the 20th Century, Iowa has played a significant role in international relations and development, and this state will continue to be a leader in the fight against hunger now and into the future. By hosting and supporting one of these YES students, you can empower international youth to continue the legacy of Iowa-native Dr. Norman Borlaug, recipient of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize and founder of the World Food Prize Foundation, in the pursuit of alleviating hunger and poverty in the United States and their home countries.


Do you enjoy learning about different cultures and religions? Would you like to share your American lifestyle and traditions with a high school student from Africa, Asia, or the Middle East? Iowa Resource for International Service (IRIS) is asking you to consider hosting one of our Youth Exchange and Study (YES) students for the 2014-2015 school year.


The YES program is funded by the Department of State as a peace building initiative and selects its students for their commitment to serve as young ambassadors. These students represent diverse religious and cultural backgrounds from over 40 countries. They return to their home countries with a spirit for youth volunteerism and better prepared to improve their communities. 


There is no such thing as a perfect host family. You do not need to be married or have children in high school to be a great host. We simply ask that you are willing to open your home and heart to one of these exceptional students. For more information, please visit and contact us through           e-mail or call our office at 515-292-7103.                           Never underestimate the difference you can make in our global community!

IRIS Alumni Global Grant Program & IRIS Global Scholarship

April 18, 2014

IRIS announces new Alumni Grant Opportunity!

IRIS is very pleased to announce the 2014 IRIS Alumni Global Grant Program. These grants are the result of our IRIS 20th Anniversary fundraising campaign and are available to past participants of any IRIS program (youth or adult programs) to enable them to contribute to the social, economic, and civic development of their countries. IRIS alumni may apply for this grant as an individual or a group and the grant requests can range from $200 – $2,000.  The deadline for the Grant Application submission is Monday, 3 June 2014. Grant applicants will be notified in July 2014, if they will be selected to further develop their projects towards approval. Please use the following application form and contact IRIS with any questions.

Click here for the PDF of the 2014 IRIS Alumni Global Grant Program Application Form.

IRIS announces new Alumni Educational Scholarship Opportunity!

IRIS is very pleased to announce the IRIS Global Scholarship Application (2014). These scholarships are the result of our IRIS 20th Anniversary fundraising campaign and is intended to assist IRIS Alumni to continue their educational pursuits by offering scholarships to attend training workshops and continue their secondary, university, or other educational endeavors in their own country. The scholarships are open to any IRIS program alumnus and are not limited to any program, program year, or age range. Applicants must have returned to their home country, and the educational opportunity must occur in their home country. Applicants are limited to one application per year and scholarships limited to $200 – $2,000 per Alumnus, per year. The deadline for the Scholarship Application submission is Monday, 3 June 2014.  Applicants will be notified in July 2014.  Please use the following application form and contact IRIS with any questions.

Click here for the PDF of the IRIS Global Scholarship Application (2014) Application Form.

Ukrainian Professionals Bid Farewell to Iowa

April 16, 2014

The month of March was very busy at IRIS, as we hosted 10 Ukrainian professionals here on a World Learning Participant Training Program called “Tolerance and Diversity to Strengthen a Democratic Society.” The participants came from Western regions in Ukraine, working in education, government, and non-profit positions. While here, IRIS arranged meetings with organizations around the state of Iowa for participants to learn about how Iowa addresses the needs, rights, and livelihoods of minorities, refugees, and immigrants.

During the three weeks, participants lived with volunteer host families around the Des Moines area. From day one, our participants and their hosts bonded quickly. Hosts took their guests on road trips, visited local museums and community events, and shared their lives with the Ukrainians. The Ukrainians in turn spoke with their hosts about current events in Ukraine, shared hobbies, and cooked Ukrainian meals. By the end of the three weeks, the guests were calling their hosts “Mom” and “Dad.”

IRIS would like thank all host families and those who volunteered but were unable to host at this time. Without host families, IRIS would be unable to continue these types of programs. You are the heart of our organization, and your time, hospitality, and generosity can never be thanked enough. To the Hofferbers, Rowlands, Geadelmanns, Browns, Moermonds, and Ms. Mitchell, we and the Ukrainians you hosted thank you.

IRIS would also be unable to create dynamic programs like this one without organizations, businesses, and public figures offering to take time out of their busy schedules to meet with our groups. Thank you to the following groups, organizations, and people:

  • City of Ames Human Relations Commission
  • Iowa Safe Schools
  • Juntos Si Se Puede/Iowa College Aid
  • Iowa Citizens’ Aide/Ombudsman
  • Heartland Area Education Agency Cultural Competence Program
  • U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
  • Iowa State Legislature, especially Senator Daryl Beall, Senate President Pat Jochum, and Representative Deborah Berry
  • Iowa Immigration Education Coalition
  • 28th Annual Greater Des Moines Friends of Human Rights Symposium
  • Iowa Immigrant Voice Project
  • EMBARC Iowa
  • American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa
  • Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services
  • Iowa Department of Education
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Creative Visions and Representative Ako Abdul-Samad
  • Lutheran Services in Iowa, Refugee Services Program
  • Meskwaki Settlement
  • Hispanics United for Perry/Perry L.I.N.K. Program
  • Dallas County Public Hospital
  • Perry Community Schools
  • Karen Organization of Minnesota
  • Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota
  • Neighborhood Development Center
  • Midtown Global Market
  • Community CPA & Iowa Immigrant Entrepreneur Summit
  • Iowa Department of Human Rights
  • Iowa Governor’s LGBTQ Conference Reception
  • Grandview University Cross-Cultural Class and Professor Ahmadu Baba-Singhri

Without your support, time, energy, and patience, our group wouldn’t have left gushing with ideas about how to make a better, stronger, more tolerant community in Ukraine.

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If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about another country, sharing professional ideas, and building a stronger world, consider short term hosting a future Participant Training Program professional from eastern Europe. Contact for more information about short term hosting opportunities. We are always in search of more individuals and families to welcome our international guests to Iowa!

Habitat for Humanity

March 31, 2014

It has been very exciting having the Ukrainian group with us over the past two weeks! They have visited a number of organizations, met representatives in office at the State Capitol, and even attended the Saint Patrick’s Day parade in downtown Des Moines. One of their most recent activities included participating in Habitat for Humanity in Des Moines.


The Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity is a part of a global, nonprofit housing organization operated on Christian principles to build homes, communities and hope. Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity is dedicated to eliminating substandard housing locally and worldwide through constructing, rehabilitating and preserving homes; by advocating for fair and just housing policies; and by providing training and access to resources to help families improve their shelter conditions. Habitat for Humanity was founded on the conviction that every man, woman and child should have a simple, durable place to live in dignity and safety, and that decent shelter in decent communities should be a matter of conscience and action for all (Habitat for Humanity, 2014).


The entire group with IRIS Staff

The group and two IRIS staff spent the day renovating a home. They worked on tearing out insulation from the ceiling, pulling nails and old dry wall out, cleaning the inside, and removing siding from the outside. They arrived to the site at 8:15am, and went for lunch at El Salvador Del Mundo, where the group got to try El Salvadorian food for the first time. Then it was back to work for the rest of the day.

Kimberly Hope, IRIS Operations Manager, said, “The Ukrainians were extremely positive and interested in Habitat for Humanity. Nataliia Kozyr, who works with Roma people in Ukraine, is interested in bringing Habitat to her area of the country to help immigrants and displaced populations. Although it was a cold day and not everyone had energy to work, people spent the day laughing and helping each other get the job done.”

Over the years, IRIS has had many World Learning groups like this one volunteer with Habitat, and it has always been a positive experience. We were glad to see the Ukrainians enjoying themselves while working for a great cause, and we hope to continue these activities for years to come.

Working on renovation project for the day

Working on renovation project for the day

The USAID/World Learning grant provided funding for this group and requires one day of volunteer work, while they are in the country. Habitat is a great organization that is well known in America, and we also thought that it was a good group project that didn’t necessarily require a lot of instructions or need to know English.

If you are interested in getting involved with the Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity, you can visit their site

Without the hospitality and support of IRIS’s short term host families around central Iowa, IRIS would be unable to bring USAID/World Learning programs such as this one to Iowa. Six different families in the greater Des Moines area welcomed the Ukrainian participants into their homes for the 3-week stay. Their guests have shown their thanks by giving gifts, making traditional Ukrainian meals, and sharing fascinating conversations with their Iowa host families. If you live in Des Moines, Ames, or central Iowa, consider contacting IRIS and volunteering as a short term host family for a future program like this!” 

International Women’s Day

March 26, 2014

Left to Right: Rachel (IRIS Staff), Anupama (India), Kimberly (IRIS Staff), Anna (Tanzania), Mariam (Egypt), Aleyna (Turkey), Aziza (Zanzibar), and Sandy (Aleyna’s Host Mom).

International Women’s Day has been observed since the early 1900’s, when the world began to industrialize with a dramatic population growth and the change from past ideologies. The first National Women’s Day was recognized by the United States on February 28, 1909 until 1913.

In 1910, Clara Zetkin, the Leader of the Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany, suggested an annual and global celebration of women. This resulted in International Women’s Day.

This year, IRIS co-hosted a celebratio of IWD at the First United Methodist Church on March 9th along with the Ames Public Library, Margaret Sloss Women’s Center, YWCA, and Friends of International Women. The day’s events included: hearing the inspiring story of Anicia Peters, a Iowa State University PhD student from Namibia; contributing to a time capsule that reflected on the status of women in 2014; a henna booth; a collage booth; and a women’s history trivia booth. Around 35 to 40 people attended the event to celebrate the day.


Anna and Anupama creating a collage about women’s roles and perspectives of women.

Anicia spoke about growing up as a woman of color in Namibia, and how she worked her way up through the very male-dominated field of computer sciences. During her speech, Anicia brought up breaking stereotypes in the STEM field and mentoring other women to break the mold. You can read more about Anicia here.

A question and answer period began which then gave everyone a chance to talk about the challenges and roles of women today. Everyone mingled over donated food from Panera and The Cafe, and got to know each other better.

Kimberly Hope, Operations Manager of IRIS, said, “I think the event was a great success. This was our first stab at trying to do something a bit more social, as opposed to listening only to a speaker and then that being it. We had some great, organic conversations. At the time capsule booth, we were able to discuss what we hope to see in women’s rights in the next five years, as well as take a look at our peer groups and how we treat women now. Over collages, people were talking about the pictures they were finding and why they were putting them on the collage.”

International Women’s Day is now an official holiday in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia.

To learn more about the history of International Women’s Day, as well as women around the world who are doing inspiring work, check out their website. 


Rachel playing a Women’s History Trivia with a guest.

YES Student, Aleyna, who attended the event, said,”Attending the International Women’s Day celebration in Ames made me feel really happy because I got to hear from a successful woman who came to the U.S. with so many difficulties, and created a big change in her local community back in her country. I felt really lucky to be there not only to hear her success story, but also to share the amazing things I’ve experienced in the U.S. so far as an exchange student. Everyone was really interested in hearing from us, which made it more enjoyable. It was such an inspiring activity that gave me courage and confidence to realize the potential I have if I want to create a change in my local community, as well.The best part was listening to her because it is not something you get to hear everyday. My host mother and I were really inspired and felt like our minds opened.”

Do you want to participate in local activities like this one? Have you ever considered hosting an exchange student? IRIS creates fun and interacting events with the community throughout the year with our exchange students. We will be placing 30 students from over 20 different countries for the 2014-15 school year, and we need people like you to act as volunteer host families. The window to find host families is very short, so please visit or contact for more information!