Building Bridges from America to Zimbabwe

By James Horsman, IVLP Program Officer at World Learning

This story originally appeared on the official blog of Meridian International Center.

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Group Photo of the State and Local Government MRP from 1992. Mr. Sibanda is back row, second from left.

What if you found out that something you do every day had a tremendous impact on someone’s life years earlier? What if that impact was felt across the world and you found out that person is someone in your family? All of this came true when I learned that my father-in-law, Herod Benjamin Sibanda from Zimbabwe, was a past participant in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). His IVLP project was administered by Meridian International Center, which along with World Learning and six other National Programming Agencies (NPAs) implements the IVLP. While visiting my wife and me in Washington, D.C. recently, my father-in-law had the opportunity to return to Meridian’s offices for the first time since his program in 1992. There, he was warmly received by Henry Collins, a Vice President of the Professional Exchanges Division for Meridian.

The unlikely meeting has its roots in Seattle, where my wife and I were living in 2018. After completing my master’s degree, I was offered a job as an IVLP Program Officer with World Learning in Washington, DC. While visiting my wife’s parents in the Zimbabwe capital of Harare, I was describing the IVLP to my father-in-law and he recounted a program in which he had participated early in his career, traveling throughout the U.S. to learn about elections and government functions. He had been selected by the U.S. Embassy in Harare, and the experiences he described were reminiscent of the IVLP. Through the State Department’s Office of International Visitors (OIV), I was surprised to learn that he was indeed an alumnus, having participated in a Multi-Regional Project on State and Local Government when he was Deputy Provincial Administrator for the Matabeleland North region in Zimbabwe.

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IVLP Alum Herod Sibanda (left) chats with Henry Collins (right) about his IVLP experience.

My father-in-law recalled that he had visited many offices in Washington, DC, before traveling to Denver, Colorado; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Columbia, South Carolina. OIV connected me with Mr. Collins, and we arranged a meeting at Meridian in early January 2020. Mr. Collins enthusiastically accepted the chance to meet Mr. Sibanda as an IVLP alum. Mr. Collins was a gracious host to my father-in-law and me as they discussed his program. My father-in-law fondly reflected on the lessons from his IVLP experience and the positive impacts they had on his life and career. Mr. Collins then gave us a tour of Meridian’s offices and shared the fascinating history behind the Center. My father-in-law flew back to Harare the next day and was clearly touched by the experience of being welcomed as warmly as he had been for his IVLP project.

Now back in Zimbabwe, my father-in-law continues to recount the impressions that his IVLP project made on him and the international connections he formed with his fellow participants around the world. Twenty-eight years later, the bridges the IVLP built for him continue to connect continents, nations, families — and even his son-in-law.

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