Iraqi students visit Louisville as tensions rise in the Middle E - News, Weather & Sports

Iraqi students visit Louisville as tensions rise in the Middle East

Some of the Iraqi students visit Louisville. (Source: Jean West) Some of the Iraqi students visit Louisville. (Source: Jean West)
M.J.  (Source: Jean West) M.J. (Source: Jean West)

By Jean West - email

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The room was festive at Saffron’s in downtown Louisville as a group of Iraqi teenagers excitedly talk about their brief stay in Louisville and their hope for their country’s future.

“Social entrepreneurship is the only way we can break the terrorists hold on our country”, said M.J., age 16. “We have to start thinking about starting our own businesses, not to just make money, but to also improve our cultural situation.”

That is why he chose to be a part of the program that has brought him here.

Louisville has been selected as one of a few US cities to host this year’s Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP) for high school students July 21-August 4. The 14 participants now visiting Louisville were selected from hundreds of talented applicants throughout Iraq. The two-week stay in Louisville is part of a larger program organized by World Learning and funded by the US State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and US Embassy Baghdad, and is designed to prepare students to lead positive social change in Iraq.

Tomha, age 17, has plans to study medicine, although her experience here, where she has learned the value of free speech, may change that.

“It’s refreshing to have an opinion and not be afraid to express it. I’ve been discussing politics with my host family, and it’s enlightening to see that the reality of what it’s like living in America, is not at all what we Iraqis have been taught. I think I might want to become a lawyer, and make a real difference in my community,” said Tomha.

During this increasingly tumultuous time in Iraq, this program is an opportunity for residents of Louisville and Southern Indiana to learn more about Iraq, its culture and its young ambassadors beyond what one may see on the news. While in Louisville, the participants will live with host families and participate in a daily program focused on leadership development, civic engagement and entrepreneurship, visiting various local businesses and organizations to develop skills for action planning.

IYLEP provides four weeks of fully funded programming in the United States for Iraqi students with a strong sense of civic responsibility, a commitment to community development, an awareness of current & global issues, strong interpersonal leadership skills, willingness to foster relationships among youth from different ethnic, religious, and national groups in Iraq, and a desire to promote mutual understanding, respect and collaboration between the United States and Iraq.

The World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana (WAC) is the premier regional organization that enhances global economic and political awareness. WAC provides opportunities to increase the global awareness of residents in Kentucky and Southern Indiana. For more information visit:, or follow events on Twitter @WorldAffairsKY.

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