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

    How Aleppo Rebels Plan to Withstand Assad's Siege

    Rebels in Aleppo are laying plans to withstand a siege by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in likelihood the regime cuts a final main supply line running west of city

    Probe Targeting China's Statistic Head Sparks Concern

    Economists now asking what prompted government to launch an investigation only months after Wang Baoan had been vetted for crucial job

    HRW: Both Sides in Ukraine Conflict Targeted, Used Schools

    Rights group documents how both sides in Ukraine conflict carried out attacks on schools and used them for military purposes

    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.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.