This July, a group of 12 Iraqi teens visited youth within Santa Maria’s Youth Development Program at the agency’s Joe Williams Family Center.
The Cincinnati World Affairs Council of Northern Kentucky University contacted Santa Maria to host students from the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program which aims to promote mutual understanding, respect, and collaboration between the people of the United States and Iraq.
The Exchange Program develops a group of young adults in Iraq who have a strong sense of civic responsibility, a commitment to community development, awareness of current and global issues, and strong interpersonal leadership skills.
During their time in Cincinnati, the students developed relationships with local families and met with youth in the community to be exposed to “real life” in the U.S. and to further breakdown stereotypes.
Students were selected from a highly competitive pool of young Iraqi leaders, each eager to come to the United States and take part in this leadership program.
During the cultural exchange, students interviewed one another about life in another country, and shared conversation over food from their respective countries. “The kids found out more ways they were similar than different, even though they live on opposite sides of world,” said Jim Holmstrom, Santa Maria’s Youth Development Program Director.