UA to Train Iraqi Students

The Iraqi leaders of tomorrow will be trained to be environmentally and socially conscious leaders during a summer institute crafted by University of Arizona faculty and administrators.

The University recently was named one of six host sites chosen to be part of the 2008 Iraqi Youth Leadership Exchange Program. The other sites include the University of Texas at Austin, Indiana University and Colorado State University.

The program is organized by World Learning, an international nongovernmental organization.

The UA's institute -- called the New Technologies and Contemporary Issues Institute -- was developed by several UA departments and units, with the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and the journalism department taking the lead.

The institute will focus on multiculturalism in the Southwest, water-related issues and desert environments to train the students to take a critical look at some of the most pressing issues facing both Arizona and Iraq. The idea is that the participants will leave the UA with the necessary skills to raise awareness and action around those issues.

The college-age Iraqi students will visit Biosphere 2, the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area in Safford, the Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, the Coolidge Dam and other locations while learning about American Indian and Mexican-American culture, immigration issues, tribal identity, public policy, land and water rights and various other social and environmental issues, including those related to mining and scarce natural resources.

"These topics were chosen because they are important to this region in the United States and also for the ease of transferability to related issues facing Iraq,� said Christian Sinclair, assistant director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies.

"These are very topical issues in Iraq," Sinclair said, adding that for nearly all of the students, it will be their first time outside of Iraq.

While at the UA, the Iraqi students will live with a group of UA students -- their peer mentors -- and toward the end of their stay will spend one weekend with various host families in Tucson.

Sinclair is co-director of the institute along with journalism department associate professor of practice Maggy Zanger, who specializes in international journalism and has done an extensive amount of work in the Middle East covering the U.S. invasion of Iraq and other topics.

The Center for Middle Eastern Studies has been working with the UA�s Center for Leadership and Social Change and the journalism department to draft a curriculum for up to 20 students -- most of them freshmen and sophomores -- who are expected to arrive from various cities in Iraq for the institute.

There is no doubt some of the students will have had firsthand experience with the war in Iraq, said Angela Seidler, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies administrative assistant. She also said the program will include an extensive cultural and information exchange for both the Iraqis and those at the UA.

"We know they�re coming from all over Iraq," she said. "We�ll definitely have some students who have seen a lot. And the aim is to get young people from these conflict areas and to teach them skills they can then take back and apply."

The students also will be taught technical skills and about multimedia, particularly how to develop Web sites and use other formats in order to submit messages to large groups of people. In their leadership training, they�ll learn mostly about cooperative leadership, social justice, advocacy and community engagement.

"I think it�s important to train youth regardless of where they are from," said Sinclair, who spent 10 years living in the Middle East and is an expert in the intercultural communication, language and identity of the region there.

"But in Iraq, we�ve been occupying their country and, prior to that, there were other wars. So many of these kids haven�t seen economic or political stability and haven�t had this kind of leadership training," he added.

The hope is that the students will want to get involved at a local or national level and become advocates for environmental or human rights, he said.

"It�s important to learn about the issues but, just as important is being able to know what to do with the information," Sinclair said.

"How do you get your voice heard? How do you spread the word and get other people on board? It�s about training a new generation of leaders for Iraq," Sinclair said. "What we�re doing is citizen diplomacy, if you will."