The International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) program is the U.S. Department of State's premier professional exchange program. Since 1940, the program -- sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in collaboration with non-governmental organizations -- has brought current and emerging foreign leaders in a variety of fields on short-term visits to the United States to experience our country firsthand and cultivate lasting relationships with their American counterparts.
The below excerpt is written by IVLP participant Zena Adi:
"In August through September 2013, I joined the IVLP with a small group of Syrian journalists and Syrian activists for three weeks in the United States. The group visited various organizations, including media organizations and participated in panel discussions focused on the Syrian crisis.
"The United States places a great deal of emphasis on individual rights, especially regarding freedom of information, and free access to information. Because the United States is a leader in the digital revolution and rapid new ways of information dissemination, participants in this IVLP program were able to develop their journalistic skills. This included especially in conflict reporting, thanks to visits to the U.S.-Mexico border, various TV channels, newspapers and universities.
"With the various American audiences, we discussed the cause of the Syrian revolution; the humanitarian situation that has resulted from the brutality of the regime; and the political situation in Syria, in particular, the events surrounding the time of the visit, including the possibility of American military strikes to punish the regime for using chemical weapons against civilians.
"Many Americans who have stood up for the Syrian revolution showed their support and sympathy with the Syrian group.
"One of my fellow journalists involved in the program, Syrian activist Obadah Al-Kaddri, director of Radio Watan, which opposes the Assad regime, expressed his dissatisfaction with the mismatch between American political statements and the actions of the American government.
"Some thought that U.S. policymakers only tried to present the situation in Syria to the American public when they needed to convince the Congress to adopt a resolution authorizing the strikes against the Syrian regime. It was only then that the American media presented the real situation on the ground and placed a correct emphasis on the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria, and the level of brutality reached by the Syrian regime against unarmed civilians.
"But now, after the international community reached the decision to remove chemical weapons in Syria, Western media appears to be focusing on the cooperation of the Syrian regime with the international mission to destroy chemical weapons and the Geneva 2 conference, as if the criminality of the Assad regime was limited to chemical weapons only. This has ignored the fact that the regime has never stopped using all kinds of weapons against the Syrian people, such as air strikes, heavy mortars, tanks, and scud missiles, causing starvation and displacement. The regime has killed over 110,000 people, and displaced two million outside the country and five million within Syria.
"At the end of their tour, many of the participants expressed interest in participating in other program visits to the United States and stressed the importance of offering such opportunities for the largest possible number of Syrian activists who aspire to develop their journalistic skills to defend their cause and present it to the American public."
About the Authors: Zena Adi is a Syrian journalist who was an IVLP participant. She wrote the above reflections. Junaid Munir serves as a Political Officer based at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France. Munir has shared these reflections with Adi's permission.