Moved by the lack of awareness on autism in his community, Omer, a college student at Soran University in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, saw a need that could be met. Through the Global Solutions Sustainability Challenge, Omer learned the design thinking process and how to identify a need and come up with a viable solution to address it. Over the course of two months, Omer collaborated with the Career Development Center at Soran University and the Soran Association Care for Handicaps to organize a one-day event to bring awareness to autism.
The interactive event was attended by organizational staff, 13 parents, and 18 youth who were impacted by autism. Through information sessions led by experts in autism, as well as painting and storytelling activities, participants learned about autism and how to create a more inclusive and supportive community. One of the volunteers expressed, “As an activist and artist, this activity was very inspiring. I had read about autism, but having the opportunity to engage with youth who have autism and see the challenges they and their families face opened my eyes in a real way to see the need for advocating for their needs in school and the community.”
Omer plans to collaborate further with Soran University and the Soran Association Care for Handicaps to provide monthly events that increase community awareness on effective ways to foster an inclusive environment. “I cannot express the happiness I feel from learning something new. These kinds of programs give you the opportunity to be a great leader in your community,” said Omer.
Huda, a student at Nawroz University in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, also wanted to further develop her leadership skills while making a difference in her community. Huda has a passion for empowering children to discover their unique talents and express themselves through art, creativity, and reading. This motivated Huda to design the “Inspiration Project” in collaboration with the Miracle Institute, an education center in Duhok that teaches youth foreign language skills. Through the project, Huda facilitated 15 sessions that combined art and storytelling to help 11 children recognize the importance of creative thinking and explore positive forms of self-expression.
To build on the Global Solutions program experience, IREX implemented an Alumni Club for students from previous cohorts. Alumni applied by submitting an idea for a community initiative. Six selected participants from Iraq and the United States were provided a small stipend to implement their community initiatives and were guided through the process over a series of three virtual trainings. Members of the Alumni Club, like Huda, applied the knowledge and skills gained from the Global Solutions virtual exchange such as design thinking, empathy, and problem solving to this new opportunity.
The Alumni Club allowed them to further develop their leadership skills and take responsibility for making a difference in their communities. “I saw the benefit of participating in the Global Solutions virtual exchange and wanted to build upon what I learned. So I applied to participate in the Alumni Club to challenge myself and experience managing and implementing an entire project all on my own. This was the first time I’ve ever done something like this before,” expressed Huda. “It gave me the opportunity to network with other organizations and know how to find a problem in my community and solve it through a project from start to finish.” Huda, like Omer, plans to implement similar activities in the future.
Learn more about how to bring this program to your classroom here.
Global Solutions Sustainability Challenge is implemented by IREX 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.