Ralph Bunche, U.S. diplomat and the first African American to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (1950), once said: "If you want to get across an idea, wrap it up in a person."
I could not agree more, and we are doing just that through U.S. Embassy Kabul's Mission Speakers Program (MSP). The MSP recruits speakers from throughout the embassy by simply finding out about our colleague's experiences, and then building a relevant outreach event around their expertise for Afghan participants. For example, the first MSP activity connected a female diplomat who happened to be a former college basketball player with a group of high school girls participating in an embassy-funded sports and leadership program. Her presentation to the girls underscored the value of hard work, determination, and goal-planning, as she told the group: "Don't be afraid to fail and don't fear what others have to say -- achieving your goals is not easy." Several of the girls subsequently commented about how inspirational it was to hear another woman's story of overcoming obstacles to achieve her goals.
Outreach activities focusing on youths serve as opportunities for officers to build relationships based on shared interests and hobbies. Building upon our relationship with the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (Afghanistan's only music school), we programmed a saxophone-playing political officer and jazz-drumming staff assistant for jam sessions that incorporated musical, cultural, geographical, and historical surveys of traditional American music. In recognition of Black History Month, for instance, one of the activities connected specific periods in U.S. history to the development of jazz music. Not only did these activities encourage the students to continue improving their form and technique, but they also underscored the themes of overcoming adversity through positive social change.
In addition to our regular public affairs outreach programs, the MSP supports embassy-wide campaigns as well. In support of U.S. Embassy Kabul's 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, for instance, the MSP programmed a female U.S. Air Force Brigadier General to lead a special discussion with over 50 students from the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF). Tapping into the Brigadier General's extensive background in domestic violence as a former prosecutor and judge, this outreach activity raised awareness of gender-based violence in Afghanistan (as well as the United States), explored international approaches to combating violence against women, and examined ways in which individuals can lead efforts to educate their peers and colleagues about the impact of gender-based violence in their communities.
People-to-people engagement -- through programs like the MSP -- forms a critical component of our public diplomacy work in Afghanistan. Since the MSP launched in October 2011, embassy officers have reached out to Afghan citizens -- with a special focus on youths and young adults -- while developing relationships based upon shared interests, such as sports, music, civic education, and international law. In so doing, they have been able to discuss themes that include creative expression, diversity, and civil society. Conducting outreach in Afghanistan is not always an easy task, yet the MSP is an invaluable opportunity for American diplomats to meet and interact with Afghans -- to build the proverbial cultural bridge between Afghans and Americans.