International Women’s Day is an annual celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. It also serves as a day to raise awareness of the need to continue advocating for women’s equality.
Today, we’re highlighting a few of the incredible women who have taken part in our programs and used what they learned to give back to their communities and the world.
Although travel was limited in 2020, Djamila Azzouz spent her summer helping to connect hundreds of teenagers across the world. The 22-year-old Algerian student worked as a facilitator for The Experiment Digital, an eight-week virtual exchange program for high school students implemented by World Learning.
As a facilitator, Azzouz played an essential role in the exchange, fostering safe and intimate group conversations between participants — both in virtual ‘neighborhoods’, groups of 30–35 participants and ‘families’, small groups of 6–8 participants.
“A facilitator is a combination of things that are really important — teaching and mentoring,” Azzouz says. “For me, being a facilitator for The Experiment Digital is being the link between the participants and engaging them with the content of the program.”
She is also an alumna of World Learning’s Maharat Mentorship program, an eight-month training program designed to help young Algerian women develop leadership and professional skills.
“With facilitating and teaching at the same time I feel like I can easily manage a group of people without having any difficulty,” Azzouz says. “Before I just wanted to teach and now, I want to teach but I also want to mentor and design programs. Because doing World Learning’s Maharat program I realized that’s possible.”
The Experiment Digital is supported by the Stevens Initiative, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, with funding provided by the U.S. Government, and is administered by the Aspen Institute.
In early 2020, Tawhida Shiropa, founder and CEO of the mental health-focused, social enterprise Moner Bondhu, took part in an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) exchange to the U.S. focused on media responsibility in an age of disinformation. Shiropa says her exchange theme “could not have been more relevant” because as soon as she returned home the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Bangladesh and a climate of anxiety and confusion took hold.
“I anticipated how fear and panic are deteriorating people’s resilience to fight the novel coronavirus,” she says. “That is why I realized that globally the need for mental health and psychosocial support services during this crisis is a necessity.”
Shiropa explains she applied what she learned on her IVLP exchange to help disseminate accurate information to the community and help people deal with the uncertainty of the pandemic.
“I immediately jumped to work with my organization to ensure that we provide correct information to not spread panic but, instead, to calm everyone down,” she says. “We have continued to share important and accurate information, alongside publishing content to keep people’s spirits up during this time.”
Mega Subramaniam is on a mission to engage underserved youth through libraries and digital learning. The associate professor at the University of Maryland in College Park is passionate about helping librarians use design thinking techniques and digital technologies to re-envision how libraries can engage and serve youth patrons in the 21st century.
In the spring of 2019, Subramaniam took her expertise to the Kyrgyz Republic as a Fulbright Specialist in order to train librarians from a wide range of educational and professional backgrounds on how to better engage with youth.
“In an increasingly divided world of haves and have-nots, libraries play a critical role in leveling the playing field for youth learning,” she says.
She now wants to bring students from the University of Maryland to the Kyrgyz Republic and is developing a new study abroad program in library sciences. If approved, it will be the university’s first faculty-led program to Central Asia.
“I genuinely believe in the ideals of sharing knowledge and teaching people in diverse contexts,” says Subramaniam.
Aseel Jawazri, Sally Manasrah, and Shireen Alshaikhli
Aseel Jawazri, Sally Manasrah, and Shireen Alshaikhli are three young women who took part in World Learning’s NextGen Coders Network to build their skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This virtual exchange, supported by the Stevens Initiative, connects university students and young professionals from Iraq, the Palestinian Territories, and the U.S. to solve real-world problems using code. Through the program, participants are introduced to coding languages and concepts like project management and design thinking.
“We need more creative minds in STEM,” says Jawazri. “Encouraging more girls to join means encouraging more people overall. This way, our societies might discover more hidden talents and great minds.”
Students work together in teams, collaborating across borders during a ten-week “hackathon” to create a website or app that will help solve problems in their communities. The program has sought to recruit young women as participants to encourage them to pursue STEM fields.
Working on a virtual exchange with teammates from foreign countries was a new opportunity for most NGCN participants. “If you join STEM programs, you will find more friends from different cultures. In addition to that, you will gain experience from different groups and this is enough for you to feel positive,” Alshaikhli says.
Several of the team projects also focused on addressing issues related to equality in education, including illiteracy, regional education challenges, and helping students choose their university specialization. All three encourage other girls and women who are interested in STEM fields to follow their educational and career aspirations.
“My message to all women is that they have to challenge themselves and accomplish something in this life which remains entrenched in their minds,” says Manasrah. “They have to take advantage of every opportunity that could be available to them and this program is one of these opportunities.”
The NextGen Coders Network is supported by the Stevens Initiative, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, with funding provided by the U.S. Government, and is administered by the Aspen Institute.