For high school students, summer vacation can take many forms. Bakr, a high school student in Iraq, decided to spend his 2021 summer participating in WorldDenver’s World Affairs Challenge Virtual Exchange. Through this program, he worked together with a bi-national team to develop a project that addresses a UN Sustainable Development Goal.
This virtual exchange presented Bakr with an opportunity to step up as a leader and guide his team through the development process of their project. Addressing the issue of water pollution, Bakr and his team came up with The Water Anti-Pollution and Incentive System, or WPAIS, to provide people in affected communities with the necessary resources to reduce water pollution. The aim of their project was to sustainably work to address water pollution while also offering incentives to do so. The inspiration for this project was the goal of innovating beyond the established approach of humanitarian aid that seems to focus on providing quick fixes rather than sustained solutions. This project reflects his views on the need to approach humanitarian efforts from a sustainable lens and rely on science to mobilize change.
After his exchange, Bakr is left with a better understanding of how to communicate with others. “[Virtual exchange] helped me understand how to interact with people better, whether in leadership or individual roles,” he reflected. He realized the importance of clarity and specificity in communication, and shared that after the virtual exchange program, he now approaches school assignments more effectively, ensuring that his work is as specific as possible. Though his team faced difficulties finding a suitable time to meet synchronously because of the time difference between Iraq and Colorado, United States, they were still able to collaborate and form their project idea, which also served to improve his communication and collaboration skills.
These skills are not the only things he’s taking away from this experience. When reflecting on his favorite memory from the virtual exchange, he recalls the unofficial meetings where he had fun with his peers, times that he will remember long term. “I found myself enjoying the time we spent together and sometimes just having a laugh together while doing the work. I found that to be very enjoyable just to have fun,” he said.
In the future, Bakr sees himself entering the medical field, and is interested in merging biology and medicine with humanitarian efforts. He encourages people to participate in exchange programs, and describes the World Affairs Challenge Virtual Exchange as “tumultuous, that’s one word to describe it. It was exciting.”
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World Affairs Challenge Virtual Exchange is implemented by WorldDenver and is supported by the J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative (JCSVEI). JCSVEI is a U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs program administered by the Aspen Institute.