Youths tell their stories through Iraqi exchange program

Published: Friday, July 12 2013 7:35 p.m. MDT

One of the biggest adjustments he had to make was to the food at the summer camp. When asked what he ate, he said, "I absolutely do not have any idea."

However, the food has improved for him since arriving in Utah.

"Doughnuts are awesome," he said.

Amenah Ferman, 16, said the experience helped her see that she is not alone and that there are other people like her.

She noticed that people seem to have more freedom in the United States.

"You can pretty much do whatever you want here. You can be yourself here. And it's sort of limited back home," she said.

During the camp, they worked on a project that involved an Iraqi women's rights project, an effort she wants to continue when she gets home.

Breanna Steggell, 15, was one of the high school students in Salt Lake City to attend the exchange program. The East High student said she did not know much about Iraq and thought the idea of exchange students from there was "weird." Since beginning the exchange program, she said, her perspective has shifted.

"I figured out that they're just like us," she said.

Robin Pratt, director of communications for the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy, said the program seeks to instill respect and understanding "one handshake at a time."

Organizers wanted to select young leaders from Iraq to help them see their leadership potential and how they could make a difference in their own communities.

The Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program revolves around providing leadership opportunities for youth, teaching them how to be involved in their communities and government, how to solve problems and work well in teams.

The program has partnered with the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy to provide youths with opportunities for service, education and education.

Email: wevans@deseretnews.com

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