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

Mood Tense Ahead of Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, No voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve and do not want to take a risk by endorsing independence More

South Africa’s 'Open Mosque' Admits Everyone, Including Critics

Open Mosque founder plans to welcome gay worshipers and allow women to lead prayers More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country 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.
NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Spacei
X
September 17, 2014 4:20 AM
The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid