IVLP Spotlight: Women, Peace and Security Program

IVLP Delegates sit with Judge Valerie P. Cooke on the bench

IVLP Spotlight December 2015

 A group of seven women leaders from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, India, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan and Bangladesh visited Reno to participate in a Women, Peace and Security Program under the auspices of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).  The English Language Officer (ELO) and State Department Contractor, Cynthia Willson, accompanying the group, wanted to share her comments and observations about the group's visit to Reno this past week.  Cynthia took many great pictures of the participants in their weekly meetings with Reno's great supporting organizations.   "The visitors marveled, "Reno is the best!" and were more excited with each programmed meeting.  Not only did they learn about new organizations/projects but they were inspired by hear other women's personal stories - their challenges and achievements.   The IVLP group left the meeting with Microsoft's DigizGirlz wing talking about doing a regional South Asian DigizGirlz project.  Ms. Kerri Garcia of Microsoft promised to work with her leadership to make it happen. The group was excited by the prospect of creating a seven country project, Ms. Gulsana researched and found a similar program on the Eurasia Foundation website "Peacebuilding through Technology" funded by the Carnegie Endowment For Peace, further fueling their excitement to form a collaborative venture.    

United States Magistrate Judge Ms. Valerie Cooke not only arranged a luncheon for the visitors with 16 women judges and legal professionals, but gave the best ever explanation of the U.S. judicial system using Styrofoam cups and a water pitcher. The visitors relished hearing Judge Cooke's personal story, and having their individual pictures sitting in her chair and holding her gavel.  This sparked a new thinking about the role of law, the legal structures in their own countries, and the legal profession itself.  Judge Cooke would serve to be an excellent resource for the American Experts program and has taught law in the Marshall Islands.  

Everyone is grateful to Dr. Emma Sepulveda for her secrets on writing.  All in the group agreed the most important tip she uses, which they all began using immediately, is never go back and correct what you are writing until you have completed the piece. The visitors welcomed her insight into the U.S. as they all (including Dr. Sepulveda) struggle to understand fully American culture.  The visitors noted, "The U.S. is a country of immigrants that doesn't seem to like immigrants."  Ms. Monika, from India, is determined to conquer her fears about writing and walked out empowered with a new medium and a much stronger voice.  Everyone was shocked to discover they all struggle with writing.  The autographed book(s) gifts from Dr. Sepulveda were precious souvenirs of their conversation.  Ms. Sofia shared, "A book is the greatest gift I can receive," reminding us all of just how precious books are!     

The selection of women entrepreneurs for the round table meeting included Danell Perlman, Abbi Whitaker, Debe Fennell and Estella Hunt!  It was a great exchange!  The visitors left energized, realizing even American women face government restrictions, cultural and stereotype challenges in breaking into a male dominated world.  The group affirmed, they just simply have to be more creative!     Each visitor was excited by the potential for further collaboration with Dr. Jen Hill, who shared her story both as an Associate Professor  (Stanford and Cornell literature graduate) who's career has been held back because she took time from research to create the UNR Gender, Race and Identity Program (GRI).  The visitors were surprised American women faculty face such obstacles in academia, and all concluded university bureaucracies similarly make it difficult to launch new programs.     

Ms. Isha shared her concern that Nepal is sitting on a powder keg of potential religious conflict as a result of growing religious intolerance.  Dr. Hill offered to put her in touch with other American scholars working on politics and religious conflict.  Dr. Gulsana was most interested in Dr. Hill's literature classes and confirmed that literature adjacent to society reveals mindset, as well as "who has agency and power." All were interested in how the religious institutions have rallied in Reno, to provide three month intensive services to the homeless, "With the mosques and synagogues doing Christmas so that the Christians can be off for Christmas."  Dr. Hill mentioned visiting faculty opportunities; Ms. Shazia shared she has her MSE degree in women studies.  Sofia asked about possibilities to connect her students to the University of Nevada, Reno.  Dr. Hill, shared she has only done web conferences with other American universities,  but welcomes the opportunity to do something similar with Afghan students  - an exciting first. Everyone in the group was shocked there is no nationally established curriculum and learned of the importance of professional societies and accrediting bodies in the U.S.     Each participant of the group loved being part of NNIC's holiday party (approximately 100 attended) and the opportunity to present their issues and countries. Ms. Monika was thrilled to see snow for the first time in her life).  

The Sierra Arts Foundation opened a fascinating discussion on the importance of the arts for cognitive development and art therapy.  Ms. Monica shared she has used music therapy very successful with 64 kids and women trauma victims.  Ms. Roger promised to send Sierra's art curriculum lesson plans, and everyone wanted the Kennedy Center's art integration curriculum. Ms. Farida and Dr. Gulsana shared examples of how their governments are using public art and cartooning for public social campaigns.  Thanks to this visit Ms. Monika is now envisioning her youth center more clearly on a similar facility that include hostel/apartment/hotel space. It was a mutually beneficial exchange: Program Director Emily Roger and Executive Director Annie Zucker thanked the group.  As a result of the visitors stories they vowed to develop art programs specifically targeted to victims of violence.    

Ms. Rachell Ekroos, a certified forensic nurse, introduced the role of the Forensic Nurse and Family Nurse Practitioner and the LuniCam - a camera that incorporates alternative lighting technology to capture under the surface injuries before they show on the surface of the skin of victims (particularly useful in strangulation cases).  Ms. Ekroos specialized in violence across a lifespan, has been called on asylum and morgue cases and serves well as an excellent American expert.  She also comes with a business background and prides herself in addressing sustainability issues.      Ms. Frankie Sue Del Papa was the perfect professional conclusion to the program. She gave the visitors a distillation of all her public service and public policy teachings.  She outlined the strategy and methodology for affecting change, which begins with a written plan of action incorporating the concentric circles of the 4C's.  This would become the blue print for the planning of a seven country South Asian initiative by this year's women "Champions/Pioneers of Peace" - my description of these pathfinders.     

Ms. Nicole Dreon arranged, with nine of her single women friends, a potluck dinner and a Christmas cookie swap at her home in Truckee, CA.  The visitors loved getting to see snow covered mountains on the way, for what all concluded was an exciting chance to get to know and see how 30-something women live and are making a difference in the world.    The visitors were touched by the warmth of the hospitality they experienced from everyone they met!  The NNIC has an amazing network of friends and resources!