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American NGO Teaches Conflict Resolution Skills to Nigerian Students

An NGO from the rural American state of Iowa is bringing students from northern Nigeria to the United States. The Iowa Resource for International Service, Inc. (IRIS) says the program will help promote academic excellence, religious tolerance, democracy and development. Voice of America English to Africa Service’s Isiyaku Ahmed in Abuja reports from one of the pre-departure orientations in Abuja for one of IRIS’s leading efforts, the Nigeria-USA Youth Exchange and Study program, better know as YES.

YES invites Muslim students in Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East to travel to the United States to share their culture and values with Americans. IRIS serves students in Nigeria and Tanzania. So far, the program has sent 106 secondary school students from five northern Nigerian states to schools in Iowa.

During their stay there, the students live with host families, rather than in dormitories.

In addition to their normal class work, they are trained in conflict resolution. Dr. Saidu Yakubu is the country director of the youth exchange program in Nigeria:

“When they come back we re-absorb them and continue to work with them, give them guidance. They offer voluntary community services and also share their experiences with others, [including training] other young people in the need for dialogue and then coming up with the culture of peace.”

He says his organization works with education officials to help select students in the states of Kaduna, Sokoto, Plateau, Bauchi and Taraba.

Dr. Yakubu explains how they are chosen:

“The principal of a particular school will select the best in terms of academic and leadership quality. They will come for an interview [that] comprises of two parts; first is the written exams in English language, mathematics, integrated science, history, and current affairs.”

He says those who pass the written examination will move on to the next stage -- the interview. In this part of the exam, he says a resource person and the program’s coordinators from the United States ask the students about their peacemaking skills and try to assess how they would be able to adapt in the US.

Dr. Yakubu says it’s a way of rewarding outstanding students who have leadership qualities and good academic records but come from poor environments, which lead to a low level of learning, a lack of self-esteem and little access to new technologies:

“Many of these students from northern Nigeria have never had access to computers, let alone the Internet, but of course by the time they come back that is different. Many of them [do] not speak out because they are shy, but now all that has changed. Their English has changed, and they now speak very well and write very well.”

Yakuabu says when they return home, the students come up with development programs for their communities.

Mr. Lawal Abdulhafeez was a student with the program in 2004:

“The YES program afforded time [and] the opportunity to learn about a different culture that is different from [Nigeria]. It made me understand my country better. [Also], the US environment offers opportunities for people to be more independent and creative, so it gave me that value.”

He says he’s now more creative and can do things on his own.

On his return from the United States, Abdulhafeez formed a peace club in his school; Ansarul deen College in Kaduna. The club uses lessons learned from his stay with young people at the American school.

The last set of 29 students left in August, and will stay for one year.