24 Central American Youth Ambassadors (CAYA) came to the United States to learn more about leadership, social entrepreneurship and civic engagement. The group composed of 20 students and four teachers came from Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. They initiated their exchange experience in Washington, DC and then they had two study tours in Idaho and Alabama before ending with a program closing in Miami, FL.
CIED developed a comprehensive and interactive program orientation for the participants in the nation’s capital. The participants visited the U.S Department of State; they toured the city and its historic landmarks; they participated in a community service activity; and they visited the Smithsonian’s Natural History and Air and Space Museums. The group also took part in workshops where they learned how to analyze the needs of their communities and envision the society they want to build as young and passionate leaders. They also learned about resources and financial literacy in a workshop conducted by Making Cents International.
The group’s first study tour was to Moscow, Idaho. Moscow is a very small university town located in western Idaho near Washington State. While in Moscow, they stayed with host families who generously opened their homes and lives to the participants. As one of the students said, “My host family was always trying to make me feel as comfortable as possible. They made me feel like home since the first night.” CIED partnered with University of Idaho, Moscow, whose very dedicated team worked to offer an agenda focused on economic and social entrepreneurship. UI offered a very broad and interesting variety of activities ranging from local business visits and social project’s workshops to American football clinic and climbing courses. Throughout the seven days on campus, the participants designed social projects for possible implementation in their home countries. They also met CAYA alumni who had participated in the exchange to Central America. Additionally, the group had the opportunity to go to the UI homecoming parade and football game as well as a party with Moscow High School students.
The second study tour took place in Huntsville, Alabama where the participants experienced southern hospitality firsthand. When the group stepped off the plane, the Huntsville team and host families were waiting for them with a huge smile on their faces. Throughout the program, participants remarked on the energy and warmth of the people in Huntsville. The University of Alabama and the International Services Council of Alabama partnered with CIED to offer this program. During this week, the group met with City of Huntsville and State of Alabama officials to discuss community and public service. They also visited the Space & Rocket Center and learned about American civil rights history through a visit to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. They participated alongside community volunteers at Manna House, a volunteer initiative to provide food to people in need. Comments from the youth indicated they considered their experience and time for self-examination “life changing” and an “amazing way to learn and share culture.”
The CAYA Program is a U.S. Department of State youth exchange designed to strengthen the leadership skills of young people from Central America and the United States. This multi-national exchange also builds bonds of friendship and understanding between people of Central America and people of the United States.