IYLEP July 2018

Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program Summary - July 2018

This summer, WorldDenver welcomed nine youth and one adult mentor from different regions within Iraq for the annual two week Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP). IYLEP is sponsored and funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the U.S. Embassy, Baghdad. The theme of this year’s program was Peacebuilding & Community Resilience. Over two weeks, the delegation attended a variety of different workshops and activities in Denver intended to address this theme. Follow the delegation's time in Denver below!

July 11th

On Wednesday, July 11th, the delegation arrived in Denver and headed to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The delegation was able to explore the exhibits within the Museum, and then they attended an IMAX movie about Jerusalem, which follows the religious backgrounds of three different girls.

July 12th

On Thursday, July 12th, the delegation attended a Project Planning session in the morning with their Group Mentor from DC. In the afternoon, the delegation explored Downtown Denver by participating in a scavenger hunt alongside local Denver high school students.

July 13th

On Friday, July 13th, the delegation participated in a workshop with the organization iEmpathize, where they examined the power of empathy as a tool to combat child exploitation. The delegation was given an important skill set for how to identify and avoid exploitation amongst themselves and their peers, which they can utilize once they return to Iraq.

In the afternoon, the delegation did a poetry session with the professional poet Toluwanimi Obiwole. Toluwa writes her own poems and performs them live at shows around Denver. For this session Toluwanimi facilitated an activity where the students had to write a poem together as a group, and then she taught each of them skills to write individual poems about the meaning of their names.

Following their morning session, the delegation took a trip to the Denver State Capitol building.

July 16th

On Monday, July 16th, the delegation visited the Troy Chavez Memorial Peace Garden in Denver. The Troy Chavez Memorial Peace Garden was created in response to the gang violence and community trauma that had transpired within the neighborhood. The delegation listened to the story of a woman who lost her son to violence within her community and now dedicates her work in the garden to him. The delegation participated in community service gardening activities within the Memorial alongside the Colorado Young Leaders.

In the afternoon, the delegation had a workshop and open dialogue session at the Denver Conflict Center facilitated by Michael Acuña, a.k.a. Ill Se7en. Together, they discussed the power of sharing their own narratives and the challenges and triumphs that accompany that.

July 17th

On Tuesday, July 17th, the delegation attended a workshop at the University of Denver, where they learned about the Colorado Resilience Collaborative. CRC works to analyze the reasons and warning signs behind individuals in the community becoming radicalized into violent or dangerous extremist groups. The delegation evaluated how to prevent this from happening in Iraq and ways they can integrate these individuals back into the community if radicalization occurs.

In the afternoon, the delegation went to a workshop at Youth on Record, which is an organization that allows youth in the community to share their narratives and express themselves through music. The delegation created a song together as a group, and then broke off into smaller groups where they each recorded a song or poem they wrote.

July 18th

On Wednesday, July 18th, the delegation attended a workshop at a local organization called Art from Ashes. Art from Ashes offers a safe space for children or youth that have experienced trauma or hardship in their lives and encourages the youth to transfer that energy into art, poetry or self expression. In this session the delegation was encouraged to write their own poetry in as little as three minutes, and then share their work in front of the group.

In the afternoon, the delegation had a workshop with the organization Warm Cookies of the Revolution. Warm Cookies of the Revolution was spearheaded with the intent to create dialogue in Denver about the serious issues our world faces today. In this session the students all chose a song that best represents who they are and how they feel at this time in their lives. Each person then went around, played their song and explained the meaning behind why they chose it.

July 19th

On Thursday, July 19th, the delegation attended a workshop at the University of Denver called Pioneer Leadership Program. The Pioneer Leadership Program was created to empower young adults to be leaders in their communities. The delegation participated in leadership activities, analyzed the characteristics that successful leaders embody and were shown leadership techniques they can utilize in their communities in Iraq.

In the afternoon, the delegation participated in an interfaith dialogue session at the Abrahamic Initative. The delegation was greeted by a diverse group of individuals that each abide by a different religion within the Abrahamic faith. The students were able to discuss their religious backgrounds in Iraq as well as ask questions about the other religions.

Finally, the delegation attended a session at an organization called Street Fraternity. Street Fraternity was created as a “safe space” for youth who are at risk of gang affiliation or gang violence in their communities. Denver youth are welcome to visit the organization whenever it is convenient in the hopes that if students have the option to go, they are less likely to participate in street gang activity. The Iraqi delegation learned about the benefits of Street Fraternity, had an open dialogue about overlapping gang issues in Denver and Iraq, and also enjoyed a dinner with the staff.

July 20th

On Friday, July 20th, the delegation participated in a Project Planning Session with their adult mentor from DC. Then they visited the Food Bank of the Rockies, where they engaged in a community service activity to feed the homeless. The delegation learned about how the Food Bank operates and were also taught helpful skills if they wanted to implement a similar project in Iraq.

July 23rd

On Monday, July 23rd, the delegation attended a workshop at Gang Rescue and Support Project (GRASP) in Denver. GRASP provides gang-affiliated youth with job opportunities, support groups and even tattoo removal in order to help them disassociate from their gang lifestyle. The Iraqi delegation learned about the success that GRASP has had in the community, and then they participated in a healing circle. The healing circle is performed at weekly GRASP meetings and is intended to be a “safe space” for gang members to come and share their feelings. The Iraqi youth were able to test this experience out for themselves and see the benefits of having something similar in their communities back home.

In the afternoon, the delegation participated in a tour of the History Museum of Colorado alongside the Mayor’s Youth Commission. While exploring the Museum the delegation was also able to have a discussion with Denver youth about how they can make themselves heard by their government officials. The Mayor’s Youth Commission shared the challenges they face with this task as well as the successes and impact they have accomplished because of it.

July 24th

On Tuesday, July 24th, the delegation met with the Denver Regional Council of Governments for an open dialogue session regarding how different government officials in Denver work together to solve issues facing their communities. The delegation was given advice on how to get the attention of their local government officials in Iraq and the necessary skills needed to implement change in their communities. The discussion covered community safety, governmental hierarchy, and future plans for the expanding city of Denver.

In the afternoon, the delegation visited the Open Media Foundation, which is an airing station in Denver that works to put media in the hands of the community. Open Media Foundation allows anyone in the city to come in and use the facility in order to create a program or talk show. For their session here, the delegation was able to record their own talk shows about their IYLEP experience in the U.S. and air it on live television for people to view.