Inclusion through exchange in Iraq

Making assumptions about people, communities, cultures, religions and nations can have devastating long-term effects.  When we generalise, we risk both wrongly defining individuals and wrongly holding groups to account for the actions of an individual.

Since its first program in 2007, World Learning’s Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP) has sought to tackle these problems across ethnic, religious, and national groups through experiential discussions, workshops, home stays and post-exchange service projects in Iraq.

It starts with a four-week summer exchange program, which brings English-speaking students ages 15-17 from Iraq to explore themes including leadership development, civic rights and responsibilities, respect for diversity, and community engagement.

While the first class in 2007 was mostly male and concentrated in Iraq’s cities, more recent participants reflect the true diversity of the nation.  There is also a particular focus on recruiting women who can gain access to girls schools and institutions, further expanding the reach of the program.

During the 4-week summer exchange program, participants work together to develop community-based solutions to particular problems they face at home. In the course of developing the project participants begin to realize other regions of Iraq also struggle to provide support to internally displaced people and refugees in their communities.

Of particular note, participants have indicated that bringing together Arabs and Kurds – groups often framed as being in conflict with one another – breaks down stereotypes. One participant from Duhok noted, “I learnt that with our skills and knowledge, we can develop our country and help improve the situation. We, as a team of members from different parts of Iraq with different ethnicity and beliefs, can work together to help re­build our country.”

World Learning’s commitment to maintaining a broad definition for the term “inclusion” allows our project work to remain adaptable, relevant and inclusive itself of the range of pressing issues facing our world.

Courtesy of the IYLEP Program, World Learning