U.S. State Department: Young Leaders Inspired to Bring Change to Communities
By Kathryn McConnell | Staff Writer |
07 December 2012
Agnes Kwenda wants to help young mothers in her Zimbabwe
community to become self-reliant.
Washington —Agnes Kwenda wants to teach young mothers in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe,
how to become self-reliant. She says the skills she learned at St. John’s
Shelter Program for Women and Children in Sacramento, California, will help her
“We’re going to do all we can to make a difference,” said Kwenda, who started
the Precious Life Foundation in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city. The
group she funds with her husband and community donors cares for homeless teenage
mothers and their children, many iof whom have nowhere else to stay. She said
community leaders are needed to step in to motivate others to provide services
that are not being provided by governments.
Kwenda is one of 58 community leaders from 28 countries who participated in
the four-month Community Solutions Program funded by the State Department’s
Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and implemented by the
International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX), a Washington-based
Participants in the professional development program, now in its second year,
were matched with nonprofit organizations and government offices across the
United States where they worked with counterparts on community development
projects related to women’s and environmental issues, transparency and conflict
resolution. In collaboration with their U.S. hosts and with support from IREX,
they also developed projects that they will implement at home during the first
half of 2013, according to IREX’s Michelle Weisse.
The visiting leaders headed back to their home countries from Washington
December 7 inspired to motivate others to join their efforts.
Angel Chitrakar brings awareness of clean energy sources to
rural communities in Nepal.
Ortal Be’eri returned to the Upper Galilee
Region of Israel with plans to promote dialogue between Jewish and Arab citizens
in her community through training and mentorships for young women politicians
from various parts of society. She’ll do that with skills she picked up at the
Washington peace-building group Search for Common Ground in facilitating
discussions among people with different backgrounds so they can learn what they
have in common.
Winding up his four months in America, Angel Chitrakar of Katmandu, Nepal,
said he will use what he learned about energy technologies at CNT Energy in
Chicago to teach Nepalis, especially in rural areas, about locally available and
cost-effective alternative energy sources like solar panels and improved
cookstoves. He stresses that kerosene, the traditional energy source, is a
safety and health hazard. Children may tip over containers of the fuel, leading
to indoor fires, and people exposed to heavy indoor smoke are much more likely
to develop chronic respiratory disease, he tells community members.
Chitrakar also wants to teach youth how to assemble and sell energy-efficient
light bulbs, a project that will help local economies and provide youth with
needed jobs, he said.
Nicholas Kaponda and Armytage Mumbwali are both bringing change to their
communities in Zambia. Kaponda is the communications director of the New Dawn
Non-Formal School in Ndole, which teaches young adults ages 18 to 35 skills in
sustainable agriculture and entrepreneurship so they can find employment and
start business cooperatives. Working with the group Cultivating Community in
Portland, Maine, Kaponda said he learned how to write grant proposals and
evaluate projects. In the future, he said, “We want to make sure that with every
project we start, evaluation will begin right away.”
Working with the Center for Public Policy in Anchorage, Alaska, Mumbwali of
Choma saw how Alaska’s elected legislators engage citizens in decisionmaking. He
also learned about the technologies involved in the state’s voting system and
that the public has access to legislative and other government proceedings.
Mumbwali plans to use what he learned to help bridge the gap between government
officials and citizen groups where he lives by bringing discussions of local
issues to radio, television and meetings at schools and churches.
IREX cites the long-term impact Community Solutions will have on the visiting
leaders. “Countries in transition need civic and community leaders who not only
possess a vision for change, but also have the practical skills and networks
that can help move their societies forward,” it