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Mar 4, 2015

Building Mutual Understanding at Home

Mariel presenting at a Silver Spring High School
Mariel presenting at a Silver Spring High School

This past summer, 22 students or recent graduates from 12 different universities or colleges volunteered with our partner organizations and schools in Indonesia, Morocco, Tajikistan, and Zanzibar. They came from all over the country -- and all over the world for that matter -- and they did things as different as creating a website for the only autism NGO in Tajikistan to teaching French in a shepherding village in Morocco. Something that all of our "Summer Service Interns" had in common though is their commitment to building people-to-people partnerships between America and the Muslim World, and then sharing that experience and the accomplishments of those partnerships within their own communities in the United States.

All of our unofficial ambassadors blog about their experiences in real time on the Volunteer Voices blog, and they all give presentations in their community. By the end of this reporting period, we are please to say that we have shared our mission with tens of thousands of people (if not more).  Our 2014 Summer Service Interns have completed 81 blog posts and we’ve had 11 AUA stories published in the Huffington Post, on local news outlets, and on others’ blogs. Our 2014 Summer Service Interns have completed 21 community presentations in faith communities (4), on college campuses in classes, clubs, and student groups (13), at high schools, and in public spaces (4). We have 15 more presentations scheduled over the next three months.

Please see this list of completed presentations and publications (outside of the Volunteer Voices blog):

Completed Presentations:

August 3: Deborah Carey, Trinity Wellsprings Church in Satellite Beach, FL

August 10: Phoebe Shelor, Bethany United Methodist Church in Ellicott City, MD

August 15: Suraiya Jinah, Ismaili Volunteer Corps at the Mississauga Khane, in Mississauga, Canada

September 10: Liselot Koenen, Georgetown Global Microfinance Initiative Club at Georgetown University, Washington DC

September 12: Deborah Carey, American University Student Seminar, Washington DC

September 12: Britta Nippert, Phoebe Shelor, and Liselot Koenen at the AUA Fall Forum at Busboys & Poets, Washington DC

September 17: Liselot Koenen, Introduction to International Health Class at Georgetown University, Washington DC

September 17: Mariel Shilling, Political Science Internship Panel at Washington College, Chestertown, MD

September 19: Tomoko Ishikawa, International Studies Department at Washington College, Chestertown, MD

September 20: Mariel Shilling, Internship Panel at Fall Family Weekend at Washington College, Chestertown, MD

September 24: Fiona Lloyd-Muller, Principled Problem Solving program at Guilford College, Greensboro, NC

September 29: Fiona Lloyd-Muller, Multicultural Education Department and the Study Abroad Department at Guilford College, Greensboro, NC

October 9: Mariel Shilling, Global Issues Class at Blair High School, Silver Spring, MD.

October 24: Suraiya Jinah, Jamat Khane to the Montreal Ismaili Students Association (MISA) at McGill University, Canada

November 6: Okxana Cordova-Hoyos, The College of New Jersey’s Eurasia Middle East Society, Ewing, NJ

November 11: Noureen Shallwani, Bonner Leaders at Emory & Henry College, Emory, VA.

November 12: Alessandra Testa, International Studies Club at The College of New Jersey, Ewing, NJ

November 13: Mariel Shilling, Cater Society of Junior Fellows, Washington College, Chestertown, MD


“Goals for My Summer in Zanzibar,” Deborah Carey, Pink Pangea, May 29, 2014.

“Bikini vs. Hijab: Choosing My Wardrobe in a Muslim Country,” Winona Vaitekunas, Pink Pangea, June 9, 2014

“Sharing Common Dreams with Our Global Neighbors,” Sarah Wall, Everyday Ambassador, June 11, 2014.

“In Morocco, a Lasting Impact Means Building Trust,” Stefan Cornibert, Huffington Post, June 26,

“When We Followed a Stranger in Indonesia: A Lesson for Tourists in Yogyakarta,” Winona Vaitekunas, Pink Pangea, July 10, 2014.

“Georgetown University Student Returns Home after Six Weeks of Teaching Chemistry in Tanzania,” Eoin Cottrell, Kane County Chronicle, July 14, 2014.

“I Won’t Hesitate to Take Steps Forward,” Gabrielle Guerrero, Everyday Ambassador, July 16, 2014.

“Don’t Judge a Millennial by Her Cover,” Benjamin Orbach, Huffington Post, August 21, 2014.

“Student Ventures Abroad, Teaches English in Tanzania,” William Osterholt, Guilfordian, September 5, 2014.

“Educating Bill Maher,” Benjamin Orbach, Huffington Post, November 3, 2014

“A Mosaic of Different Cultures,” Suraiya Jinah, Ismailimail, November 27, 2014

“Why Volunteer?” Benjamin Orbach, Huffington Post, December 5, 2014

“Looking for a Job? Step Away From the Computer and Volunteer,” Stefan Cornibert, Huffington  Post, December 5, 2014


Thank you for your continued support of America's Unofficial Ambassadors and the Summer Service Internship program!

Deborah presenting to her church in Florida
Deborah presenting to her church in Florida
Phoebe, Liselot, and Britta at Busboys and Poets
Phoebe, Liselot, and Britta at Busboys and Poets
Dec 22, 2014

School 2 School Pics; Expansion to DC, Islamabad, and Ramallah; and an End of Year Request

Tug of war at Sukma Bangsa
Tug of war at Sukma Bangsa

Dear Friends,

I’d like to thank you for your continuing support of America’s Unofficial Ambassadors and the School-2-School initiative in particular. As we wind down towards the end of the year, we wanted to share these pictures and update you with exciting news.

First the pictures – they are from Ms. Andi Webb’s volunteer service in Indonesia this past summer. If you remember, Andi is an instructional coach at the Alderman Road elementary school in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Her students spent a semester Skypeing with students in Aceh, Indonesia earlier this year and for two weeks, Andi volunteered at the Sukma Bangsa school in the village of Pidie in Aceh. She taught English and did some training with the staff at Sukma Bangsa, a school that was set up for the victims of the tsunami almost 10 years ago. A picture is worth 1000 words, and as you can see, the volunteer mission was as meaningful as the virtual exchange during the year.

Second, our exciting news is that we’ve decided to implement a second year of this partnership between Alderman Road and Sukma Bangsa. The schools have a plan to engage in different virtual trainings, cultural performances, and classroom discussions, and Andi will travel to Indonesia again, this time during the school year, to conduct teacher trainings and to teach English. I want to remind you that we never would have been able to create this partnership if it weren’t for your support of our Global Giving campaign in September of 2013 when we raised more than $7000 from more than 200 donors. Thank you!

This second year of partnership between the two schools is a component of an expanded 2015 School-2-School program. We are thrilled to announce two new partnerships between “Title I” schools in Washington DC and partner schools in rural Bangladesh and in Ramallah. The Cardozo Academy has already begun its new partnership with The Carter Academy in the village of Islamabad, exchanging videos with each other on a bi-weekly basis, and middle school students at the Wheatley Education Campus and The Arab Evangelical Episcopal School will begin their partnership soon after the New Year.

As you weigh the causes you want to support at the end of this year and the changes that we hope to see in 2015, I hope you will consider continuing your support to School-2-School. Each of these partnerships cost between $7,000 to $10,000 to build and implement. Given the number of children who are impacted here in the United States as well as in the West Bank, Bangladesh, and Indonesia, that is such an incredible difference to make for a relatively small sum.

All of our investments add up!  Thank you again for the support and all the best for the holidays and 2015 –

Ben Orbach

Director, America’s Unofficial Ambassadors

Andi with elementary school students
Andi with elementary school students
Meet and greet
Meet and greet
Students perform a traditional Acehenese dance
Students perform a traditional Acehenese dance
Dec 11, 2014


From October 2012 to 2014, Aid to Artisans (ATA), a division of Creative Learning Inc., implemented the “Nixi Tibetan Cultural Preservation and Economic Empowerment” project, through the Ngwang Choephel Fellows Program. This program is dedicated to the preservation of cultural traditions, enhancement of sustainable development, expansion of economic opportunities, and support of environmental conservation within Tibetan communities in China.  


Funded by the US State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the project was dedicated to the preservation of a treasured Tibetan cultural tradition, the unique Nixi Black Pottery. It focused on innovative interpretation of ancient designs, development of new markets and increased appreciation of this 1200-year-old tradition by a broader, more affluent audience, beyond the Nixi village.


Over the two project years, with leadership by international ceramics expert Kathy Erteman, assistance from local coordinator and translator Sunnuo Zhuma, and in partnership with other local non-profit organizations, potters upgraded designs, improved techniques, broadened their use of artistic motifs, and added skills for packaging and marketing their wares.Following are the key accomplishments achieved during the life of the program:


  • Established partnership with the Eastern Tibet Training Institute whose mission is to provide people in Eastern Tibet with the skills and resources needed to access new economic and social opportunities.
  • Established connection with the Shangri-la Handcraft Center in Shangri-la townthat aims to provide linkages to Chinese and tourism markets.
  • Established connection with the Pottery Workshop in Jingdezhen, an international center for ceramics.
  • Completed building an eco-effective kiln in Tandui Village near Shangri-la, which enables the potters to fire larger quantities of pots.
  • 40 Nixi potters participated in a capacity building and design workshop in Jingdezhen where they learned how to make porcelain inlays on the Nixi pots.
  • More than 30 new product designs were developed through this workshop.
  • 40 Tibetan Design Handbooks were produced including 30 pages of design motifs, based on the “Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs” by Robert Beers.
  • 3 Packing and Shipping Workshops were organized for developing secure ways to avoid breakage during shipment to the United States.
  • 5 Nixi Potters participated in a 3 week cultural exchange program in the US, visiting 5 cities to learn US pottery techniques, demonstrate their techniques and sell their pots to American and Native American potters.
  • Over 200 US potters attended the demonstrations across the US.
  • Over 150 pots were sold during the 3 weeks US cultural exchange program.


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