Young People Bond over Taking Meaningful Humanitarian Action
Soliya's Global Circles
During Soliya's Global Circles, Trinity from Alabama, U.S., and Azza from Ras al Khaimah, UAE, met with their peers online for a cross-cultural dialogue on humanitarian action. They gained newfound awareness of one another's cultures, as well as skills they can apply towards their future careers.
You may have heard of the song “Sweet Home Alabama” by American southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. The state of Alabama is well known for southern hospitality and beautiful Gulf Coast beaches. It is also where many key events in the U.S. Civil Rights movement took place, eventually leading the country to adopt new laws and securing equal rights for African Americans.
Ras Al Khaimah (RAK City) is the capital city of the emirate of the same name, which is one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. It is a 45-minute drive from Dubai and is renowned for its rich Islamic heritage, beautiful beaches, and tall mountains.
At first glance, the two places don’t seem to share much in common. Geographically, they are thousands of kilometers apart; culturally, they have rich histories and traditions of their own. Yet, it turns out that young people in RAK City and Alabama have many things in common, including their deep care for the world’s vulnerable populations in need of aid.
That’s what Trinity, a senior at Tuskegee University, a historically black college in Alabama, and Azza, from the American University of Ras Al Kaimah, came to discover while participating in Global Circles, a virtual exchange designed by Soliya on the topic of humanitarian action in a world of crises. Trinity majors in Mass Communication, Azza in Social Work.
Over two weeks, Trinity and Azza, along with a diverse group of peers, participated in synchronous (real-time) and asynchronous conversations on Rethinking Humanitarian Action in World of Crises, guided by trained facilitators who ensure participants learn in a safe environment conducive to critical thinking and constructive disagreements. Initially, Azza and Trinity had reservations. They didn’t quite know what to expect in this assignment. Global Circles was integrated into course offerings in each of the campuses and were required, graded components of their classwork.
Azza was surprised by the students’ open-mindedness. She didn’t expect her American peers to be curious about her life in a country that is far away. “I assumed the students would hold back on sharing their true feelings or not be open to different opinions. It was amazing to see their curiosity coming through. We were a cross-cultural community in a Zoom room that brought out the best of us. I felt free to express myself.”
I assumed the students would hold back on sharing their true feelings or not be open to different opinions. It was amazing to see their curiosity coming through. We were a cross-cultural community in a Zoom room that brought out the best of us. I felt free to express myself.
What surprised Trinity was her newfound awareness on the topic at hand, humanitarian aid and limitations of money as a form of aid. They were discussing permanent versus temporary solutions, and how money is finite but education’s impact can be long lasting. Trinity left the dialogues with more questions: How do we decide who deserves aid and prioritize who gets it more [or] first? She learned “throwing money at a problem” was not the solution. Education, instead, should guide the solutions.
Azza, too, gained a new level of awareness around the key concepts of providing aid to populations who rely on the international community sometimes even for their most basic needs. She had a new appreciation for the importance of transparency in aid organizations, such as how and where the donations are applied, after learning which factors can affect humanitarian action.
Trinity and Azza both agree that they learned skills that they can apply in their respective careers, such as active listening, asking good questions, and being mindful of others’ culture and background.
“Being a social work leader, these skills are critical, especially for work that involves counseling services. In life in general, having an open mind and being mindful when you talk to different populations is important,” said Trinity. She found the resources shared asynchronously on the philosophy of dialogue, and how it’s different from debate, really helpful. Global Circles did not resemble the kind of discussions she had before. From the first session, she found herself putting skills to practice through the exercises led by facilitators.
It was surprising for Trinity “that even across so many different locations, [young people] share many ideas and values.” Global Circles was a unique opportunity to meet people from around the world one would never meet otherwise.
Being a social work leader, these skills are critical, especially for work that involves counseling services. In life in general, having an open mind and being mindful when you talk to different populations is important.
Azza now feels more confident to speak more and communicate better. “Open-ended questions are the best way to discover more about the other person’s point of view. We should not take communication skills for granted. They are learned. We are not born with those skills.” With her newfound confidence, Azza describes her experience as something that will help her in the real world and for her career. “It was a fantastic experience being able to speak my opinion and express myself.”
Global Circles is implemented by Soliya 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.