THE US Embassy in Bandar Seri Begawan Tuesday hosted an outreach event entitled ‘Conversations’. This public diplomacy programme featured Bruneians who have participated in US government-sponsored cultural exchange programmes such as the International Visitor Leadership Programme (IVLP).
At the event, Khairunnisa Ash’ari, an aspiring environmental advocate, shared her experiences in the United States as a participant in a recent IVLP exchange programme on ‘Volunteerism and Youth’, and encouraged dialogue and exchange of ideas on the theme of volunteerism with local non-government organisation (NGO) representatives.
The three-week cultural exchange programme, organised by the US Department of State, included participants from throughout the Asean region.
The US Embassy invited several local NGOs to hear from Khairunnisa, including Brunei Darussalam AIDS Council, Brunei Youth Council, Brunei-US Association, Council of Social Welfare, Green Brunei, SMARTER Brunei and the Women Graduates’ Association.
The embassy event also featured an address from Rachel Cooke, who is the US State Department’s Deputy Director of the Office of Maritime Southeast Asia Affairs.
Cooke spoke to members of the local NGO community about US government support for exchange programmes such as the IVLP and President Obama’s Young Southeast Asia Leaders Initiative (YSEALI).
“This year is the 75th anniversary of State Department-sponsored exchange programmes. Since 1940, the US Department of State has supported over one million exchange participants. We are delighted that Brunei is part of this global family that nurtures and encourages exchange visits to promote mutual understanding and facilitate direct, people-to-people diplomacy,” she said.
Khairunnisa Ash’ari, the co-founder of Green Brunei, is the Head of International Relations at the Brunei Youth Council and Director of Green Xchange for SCOT.
Discussing her IVLP visit, she said, “The programme was beyond exposure to the work of various non-profit organisations; it was also about understanding the service-learning culture that is ingrained from a very young age. While Brunei does have a volunteering culture, the level of commitment and passion for giving service I observed in the United States was very different, and this is one of the important lessons that I am taking home with me. I learnt about the various roles that the public and private sectors play in promoting social justice, and had dialogues with a number of inspiring individuals who are committed to making this world a better place.
“I am looking forward to collaborating with fellow exchange participants as we share our resources and knowledge, and I figure out how to apply what I have learnt to my own organisations,” Khairunnisa added.
The Asean Volunteerism and Youth programme explored traditional and creative ways of fostering civic participation and engagement, exposed participants to NGO management practices, studied community activism and diversity in the United States, explored advocacy and leadership strategies, and highlighted volunteer projects and community service initiatives from across America.