News / USA

Citizen Diplomats Sought for Worldwide Outreach

More than 600 attend summit in Washington

2010 Citizen Diplomat Award recipient Dr. James Rolfe examines the teeth of a young patient at the dental clinic he founded in Afghanistan.
2010 Citizen Diplomat Award recipient Dr. James Rolfe examines the teeth of a young patient at the dental clinic he founded in Afghanistan.

Multimedia

Audio

The U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy says individual Americans have the right and responsibility to help shape U.S. foreign relations. This month, it hosted a summit in Washington with the goal of getting more Americans to do just that.

Being a citizen diplomat can be as simple as hosting an international visitor in one's home. Or it can involve organizing and hosting "immersion journeys."

Breaking down misinformation

Sahar Taman, a Muslim who grew up in Wisconsin, has led tours to and from seven different Arab countries over the past four years. That has included visiting multiple mosques, synagogues and churches and having meaningful discussions about religion.

2010 Citizen Diplomat Award honoree Sahar Taman (back row in red) visits an Egyptian Coptic church with one of her tour groups in May 2009.
2010 Citizen Diplomat Award honoree Sahar Taman (back row in red) visits an Egyptian Coptic church with one of her tour groups in May 2009.

"One of the things we do is break down this culture of misinformation that exists about religion," she says. "It exists about Muslims, but often exists for Muslims about other religions, too."

Taman recalls an Islamic publisher who hosted participants in her program and wrote an essay about his experience. She said he grew up believing "the Jews were the enemies," something his government and the media in his country told him.

"It was not until 2008," the publisher wrote, "when I was 63 years old, that I met a Jewish person for the first time, and I learned that they were humans, just like us.'"

Taman was one of seven people honored this year by the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy. More than 600 people from across the United Sates and 41 other nations attended the group's four-day gathering, to honor her and other citizen diplomats and talk about issues of concern.

More than a meeting

Ann Schodde, president and CEO of the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy emphasized that the summit was more than just talk.

Ann Schodde, president and CEO of the US Center for Citizen Diplomacy wants to double the number of Americans engaged in international activities within the next 10 years.
Ann Schodde, president and CEO of the US Center for Citizen Diplomacy wants to double the number of Americans engaged in international activities within the next 10 years.

"It is an initiative and it is a launch, and what we are doing, launches a 10-year campaign to double the number of Americans involved internationally, whether they are five or 95 by 2020."

Although it is difficult to say for certain how many Americans are engaged in citizen diplomacy, Schodde says the center has looked at census data for some figures. She says tallying figures such as number of Americans studying abroad or travelling outside the U.S. for business, the total is about 63 million. But, she admits, it is a "very subjective number."

Free dental care for Afghans

One of those millions honored at the summit in Washington was Dr. James Rolfe. A dentist for more than four decades, Rolfe founded the Afghanistan Dental Relief Project, which provides free dental care to Afghan citizens.

After travelling to Afghanistan on his own in 2003 and learning that most Afghans had never seen a dentist, he set up a clinic which now treats about 20,000 people a year. He also established a school to train dental assistants, dental laboratory technicians, and dental hygienists from the orphan and widow population.

"When I started this I thought, 'this is a really great project and a lot of people are going to come and help me with it,'" Rolfe recalls. "It wasn't like that at all. There wasn't money coming in and there wasn't any volunteer pool to draw from. And so basically it was a lot of hard work and money had to come from me and the work had to come from me too."

That is beginning to change he says, but he still puts most of the money from his own practice in Santa Barbara, California, into the program.

"I wanted to go and help the people because I knew I could do it," he says. "I knew they needed the help, and I felt like they had been abandoned, even by our own country."

When there are tensions between nations, Anne Schodde says, citizen diplomats can often directly address major issues like poverty, health, the environment.

"It is eminently clear that our government cannot portray American values and who we are to the rest of the world," she says. "It won't work. If you look at the power of just people working together often progress can be made on very critical issues faster."

That's why Schodde would like to see another 60 million Americans engaged in citizen diplomacy by 2020.

You May Like

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More