AFS Celebrates Young Filmmakers as Agents of Social Change

For the second year in a row AFS is proud to support the PLURAL+ Youth Video Festival organized by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) with other many partner organizations from around the world.

PLURAL+ recognizes youth as powerful agents of social change in a world often characterized by intolerance, and cultural and religious divisions.Young people under the age of 25 are asked to submit their short videos (not longer than 5 minutes) describing how their lives and communities are affected by these topics. The best entries in different age groups are awarded prizes by an international jury composed of renowned filmmakers and media personalities. AFS and other project partners also select and present their awards.

This year young people from 63 different countries submitted 175 short videos addressing key challenges related to topics such as migrant integration, inclusiveness, identity, diversity, intercultural dialogue, human rights and social cohesiveness, both at local and global levels. AFS’ network-wide community of Intercultural Learning Responsibles had a tough job selecting the best one.

Of all the great video submissions received, representatives of 40+ AFS organizations found Blue Eyes by Al-Mothanna Al-Ghizzawi and Anas Yahya from Jordan to best meet our educational criteria, demonstrating strong intercultural sensitivity of content and style in a truly original way.

This video is also strongly linked to the AFS mission to raise awareness and promote intercultural understanding to create a more just and peaceful world, and it is also linked to AFS’ core values of being inspiring, supportive, connecting and trustworthy.

We commend Mothanna Al-Ghizzawi, Anas Yahya and their team for creating such a moving and meaningful message.  We will be presenting the PLURAL+ 2014 AFS Intercultural Award to the video Blue Eyes at the 2014 Plural+ Video Award Ceremony scheduled to take place today, Thursday, 4 December 2014, at the Paley Center for Media in New York.

AFS will continue to support PLURAL+ and similar initiatives in the future. We invite you to watch all the video submissions here and to let us know what your main learning point from them is.

AFS Convenes World Leaders to Discuss Global Citizenship Education

On November 8, 2014, AFS Intercultural Programs, under the patronage of UNESCO, hosted an international high-level symposium Learning to Live Together—from Ideas to Action: AFS Global Intercultural Education Symposium for more than 1,000 attendees.

It was an amazing milestone in AFS history when representatives of the AFS global community convened with global luminaries in the world of peace and justice at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France to make a bold statement about the importance of global citizenship education and the role AFS has taken to advance this movement.

“Our mission for the Symposium and going forward is to drive the global citizenship education movement to reach and cultivate partners, advocates, influencers, thought leaders and potential global citizens—young and old—especially those living or working in areas of great turmoil,” explains Melissa Liles, Chief Education Officer of AFS Intercultural Programs.

Building on the powerful recommendations presented at the 100 Years Young! AFS Youth Symposium earlier in the day, both the audience and the speakers were charged with anticipation and excitement. The theme of the conference was inspired by Jacques Delors’ challenge that we “learn to live together by developing an understanding of others.” Mr. Delors is the former three-time President of the European Commission and Chairperson of the UNESCO Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century.

The distinguished roster of speakers then facilitated a thought-provoking conversation exploring the dimensions and challenges of developing global citizens who can work across cultural differences to create a more just and peaceful world.

“We must recognize that our students are not ready for the world if they have no grasp of the 21st century’s challenges, stated Oscar Arias, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former President of Costa Rica (1986-1990, 2006-2010) in his keynote address. “We must make intercultural understanding, not a footnote in our educational systems, but rather a mandatory course of study.”

The panel included Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, former President of Iceland, Chernor Bah, the youth representative on the High-Level Steering committee for the UN Secretary General’s Global Education First Initiative,  Andreas Schleicher, head of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development,  Éric Falt, Assistant Director-General at UNESCO, and J. Brian Atwood, Chair of Global Policy Studies at the University of Minnesota and former Administrator of the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID). They all sent a powerful message pushing for global education.

Facilitator Vishakha Desai, Special Advisor for Global Affairs at Columbia University and President Emerita of the Asia Society, encouraged everyone in the audience to think differently about their own efforts.

“Be the change you want to see in the world. That is, my friends, what we are all about,” advised Dr. Desai. “If you think you’re too small to make an impact, try to fall asleep with a mosquito in your room.”

We thank Sheryl Tucker of AFS International for contributing to the blog. To find out more, please see an extended version of this article in the upcoming issue of our AFS Intercultural Link news magazine.

Celebrating 100th anniversary through discussions and active engagement

How do I understand Global Citizenship? What are the roles and responsibilities of governments, businesses, NGOs or schools in enhancing Global Citizenship Education? And what actions can we take to promote Global Citizenship in our own communities?

These are some of the questions that participants of 100 Years Young! asked themselves and others during this unique project organized in connection with the 100th anniversary of AFS Intercultural Programs.

The main goal of 100 Years Young! AFS Youth Workshop & Symposium was to create a platform where young people can share their vision of the future of Global Citizenship Education and discuss the roles of different stakeholders in making this vision a reality. The project, organized for young people and by young people was divided into three parts. In the initial stage, participants had almost 2 month to engage in a facilitated discussion and learning online in order to prepare for their in-person meeting and to also give voices of those who couldn’t attend the workshop and symposium in Paris.

On November 5th 100 young people gathered in Paris to start 2 days of in-person discussions, divided into 4 tracks, each focusing on a different group of stakeholders:

  • Global Citizenship Education & Governments and Policymakers
  • Global Citizenship Education & Business and Media
  • Global Citizenship Education & Schools and Other Educational Institutions
  • Global Citizenship Education & Non-Governmental Organization, Religious & Community Groups

The recommendations that came out of the discussion of each track were then presented at the AFS Youth Symposium held on the morning of November 8th at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris and also in the afternoon at the AFS Global Intercultural Education Symposium. These recommendations invite different stakeholders to take action in their fields and to contribute to putting Global Citizenship Education in the forefront of 21st century debates. The inputs from young people sparked lively reactions already in Paris and we are happy that the project currently moved into it’s third phase when all participants continue their virtual discussion and exchange ideas on how to create a change in their own organizations, communities and circles.

If you would like to learn more about the project, you can watch this introductory video that opened the AFS Youth Symposium at UNESCO or visit the project Facebook page. We will bring you additional posts in the future to inform you more thoroughly about the outcomes and share perspectives of various actors involved in the project.

Embracing Diversity

This blog post was contributed by our fellow AFSer, Omer Ongun. Omer went on an exchange to USA in 2003 with AFS and since then has been a volunteer, volunteer trainer and project coordinator in AFS Turkey. After finishing college in business administration, with a great inspiration from AFS, he chose the intercultural learning field and intercultural competence as his area of profession. He has completed his graduate studies at Galatasaray University, doing a research in understanding mobility programs in developing a better mutual understanding of diverse groups in Turkey. Omer is also a folk/contemporary dancer of various cultures in Anatolia. He practices body music and dance too, trying to experience body music in different folk cultures throughout the world.

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Diversity has been a point of interest in the latest discussions in the field of Intercultural Learning. In the era of rapid flow of information through various communication channels, mobilization of individuals, services, goods and ideas; organizations and individuals need to consider the diverse working and learning environments. But how do we understand diversity? How can we develop further concepts around the term while embracing diversity? How can we see diversity as an enriching aspect of our organizations rather than a challenging matter of fact? Bearing these questions in mind, European Federation on Intercultural Learning (EFIL)’s seminar taking place in the University on Youth and Development in September 2014 in Southern Spain focused on diversity education.

“Embracing Diversity” seminar aimed at creating an attitude change and more tolerance in how we deal with diversity on a personal and organizational level. The participants were provided with a space to explore diversity education in the framework of youth exchanges, discuss projected differences through language, images and texts and give a thought to how to prevent stereotyping. Intercultural Dialogue Day took place during the seminar, which also offered possibilities to engage youth in it through mini activities. This was an example of how to create youth opportunities within diversity education while linking EFIL’s approach to the topic to other youth organizations. This resulted in different new opportunities for youth within the AFS/EFIL network and beyond.

Diversity: A Challenge or Enrichment?

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, diversity is “the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.” and/or “the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization.” This definition tends to limit diversity to race or culture, but as thirty participants from all around Europe and Middle East discussed, diversity is much more than that!

Working on the topic of “diversity” in a “diverse” group requires facilitators to create an environment where participants can explore their identities, the way they describe and identify themselves while having a similar understanding of the term diversity itself.  It is important and inspiring to have individuals that are eager to learn about the other, relate to the global issues and otherness and be interested in diversity.

There is no fixed definition that can be applied to all organizations at all levels – local, national and international. However, personal mindset and reflection are always important in diversity education. The methodologies used during “Embracing Diversity” seminar followed these steps:

  • context and definition
  • personal reflection
  • organizational reflection
  • future steps on personal, organizational and local levels in diversity education.

“Embracing Diversity” seminar inspired volunteers from all around Europe and Middle East to bring in reflection, critical thinking and exploration of concepts of diversity in intercultural learning, diversity education and AFS on personal and organizational level into the learning environment. It was particularly important for the participants and facilitators to be self-critical by asking the following questions

  • How much do we embrace diversity in our daily life?
  • How do we see intercultural learning in diversity education?
  • Are there any limits? What are the limits of embracing diversity? Who and what decides on those limits?
  • Are we able to provide sustainable, effective and useful diversity education trainings in our network?

Countries of the World

Maps can be a very inspiring tool for those interested in intercultural matters. Looking at a map and dreaming of visiting some places currently distant to you may have been the first time you had a desire to meet new cultures. In some of our previous posts, we have covered different ways to use maps in experiential learning activities, their diverse purposes, the upside down maps, or how maps change things. This post will complement our map series, and introduce the reader to the world of endonyms.

An endonym is the name for a place, site or location in the language of the people who live there. These names may be officially designated by the local government or they may simply be widely used. We invite you to visit this website and see all the different country names in official local languages. The map shown there is interactive, and you can zoom into different parts of the world to see more details, or check out the corners of the map for some language fun facts.

The website also teaches us some fun facts about languages:

  • The most common official or national language in the world is English, with 86 countries or territories. These jurisdictions represent roughly one-third the number of total countries and approximately 30% of the planet’s land area.
  • After English, the most common official languages are French, Spanish and Arabic.
  • Combined, these four languages are used in some official form in 157 countries, about two-thirds of all countries. The small corner maps on the poster below show where these languages are used.
Is the information shown here accurate for your country?