The following is an interview with Nali Hiwa, a student in the Access Microscholarship Program, and recent participant in the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP).
What made you interested in applying for IYLEP?
I heard about IYLEP from my friends who always talked about it. I thought it would be a great opportunity to meet people from different cultures. I also wanted the certificate, which would open doors to a lot of things. I applied to learn things from other people, learn about the culture of the United States, share the culture of my country, and improve my English. I also like to travel.
How was the application process?
I heard about IYLEP in 2016 and was thinking about it for a while. I started volunteering in 2017 because it’s required to be accepted into the program. I asked some alumni about the application process and they all encouraged me to apply. I thought a lot about what to write in my application.
How did the Access Program help you with IYLEP?
Access helped with the interview because of the workshops we have had. Meeting the teachers from other countries helped as well. In the interview, if they know that you have socialized with other people and want to meet new people, it will increase your chances of getting accepted. Also, Access has helped with my language skills because of the native speakers who taught us.
Are there any similarities between the approach in IYLEP and Access?
IYLEP is very practical. We learned about gender studies and visited an organization that works against domestic violence, sexual abuse, and gender inequality in Helena, Montana. In Access it’s more theoretical. I learned about smart goals, which were repeated in IYLEP, but because I learned it in Access I felt that I was one step ahead of everyone. They were talking about it and I knew all the stuff already.
How do you see Iraq now as compared to before IYLEP?
When I heard the word “Iraq,” I thought Arabs from the south hate [Kurds] and would never want to meet us. But the people were really nice and they even raised the Kurdish flag in front of the White House. Now, it is quite different. We can share the concept of peace. We can live together even though we have been separated, and live as humans and not by our nationality.
What did you take away from your IYLEP experience and how are you planning to serve your community?
Seeing different cultures opened my eyes to what needs to be changed in my community. Seeing all these organizations and the culture in Helena helped me see what needs to be changed and what I should do. It also showed me that we have things that they do not have. The kids did not care about their parents as much as we do. When a child turns 18, they leave and depend on themselves. Here it is different; until the child gets married they live with their families and when the parents get older they live with the children. The problem is that when it is time to depend on ourselves we cannot do so easily. I think there should be a mix between both cultures.
For how to serve our community, we are planning a project, with IYLEP and DYLEP, and have applied to the DYLEP fellowship fund for about $2500 to work on community organization. When someone has an idea to do something and they do not have support, we support them financially or find them funds and help with volunteers. We are planning four projects and if we get the funds. One of the projects is on recycling. We are also trying to increase access to books. We will record audiobooks in Kurdish and spread them via Youtube or Soundcloud. Some people who have sight disability can listen to them. This would also help people who do not have time to read. We will also do a workshop about things we learned in IYLEP, which would be an IYLEP experience without being in IYLEP. Finally, we want to create a Youtube channel, a Facebook page, or a website where we will subtitle documentaries to Kurdish from English.