In Kuwait, I met with five recent alumni of our International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), whose subjects ranged from journalism and drug rehabilitation to interfaith dialogue and female political leadership. Although their professional topics varied, the common thread between their programs was individual empowerment and leadership. Each person discussed how their exchange experience influenced their impressions of the United States and inspired them to apply what they learned in their home countries.
I also met with 20 Youth Exchange and Study Program (YES) and English Access Microscholarship Program participants and alumni. Those who had recently returned from the United States enthusiastically shared their experiences.
On our first full day in Baghdad, International Information Programs Coordinator Dawn McCall and I had lunch with 15 Iraqi bloggers. They discussed how social media training is empowering them and increasing their community's access to information.
I joined Ambassador Jeffrey in commemorating the 60th Anniversary of Fulbright Exchanges in Iraq. Approximately 100 newly accepted Iraqi Fulbrighters and program alumni participated. Since the program's re-establishment in 2004, more than 320 Iraqi students and scholars have been awarded scholarships. Next I met with the Director General of the Iraq Museum and with the Chair of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage and toured eleven exhibit halls and storage facilities at the Museum. As part of our Iraq Cultural Heritage Project, we reviewed the significant upgrades that were made at the national museum funded by the USG at a cost of $5.2 million.
On my last day in Baghdad, I co-chaired the inaugural meeting of the Iraq-U.S. Cultural, Educational and Scientific Cooperation Joint Coordination Committee (JCC), a key component of bilateral cooperation under the U.S.-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement. The meeting addressed the scope of U.S.-Iraqi partnership in the areas of education, cultural heritage, science, sports, culture and youth. Examples include one of the world's largest International Visitor Leadership Programs; the region's largest Fulbright Program; significant refurbishment of the Iraq Museum; the establishment of a conservation/preservation training institute in Erbil, and a site development plan for Babylon.
I then traveled to Basra, where I attended a cultural event celebrating Women's History Month at Basra Culture House with scores of women and girls in the audience. Over lunch with key cultural community members, we renewed our commitment to highlighting Iraqi culture and empowering women through exchanges. We continued on to the University of Basra to see the Chancellor, toured the facilities (including TOEFL, Educational Advising, and Computer Skills centers, all CERP projects in progress, plus an American Corner), and met with Fulbright, IVLP and the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange program alumni.
The trip was an eye-opening success and as always, I was updating live via Twitter -- so be sure to follow me @AnnatState.