To the Editor:
I am writing to urge community members in Hamilton County to consider hosting an exchange student from Africa this coming school year (2012-2013).
Our organization, the Iowa Resource for International Service (otherwise known as IRIS), is a nonprofit based in Ames, whose mission is to forge global connections by sponsoring the most gifted high school students from Nigeria and Tanzania to come to Iowa for one year. These students live in host families, attend a local high school, and witness firsthand how people of diverse backgrounds come together to make communities like those in Hamilton County.
Since the program's beginning in 2003, IRIS has brought over 280 students to Iowa on full scholarships provided by the US State Department (the scholarship includes health insurance and a small stipend for the students), and it has selected another group of 38 students to bring this fall-all of which are still anxiously waiting to hear that they will have hosts. These students are the best and the brightest: they go through a rigorous selection process of interviews, exams, and writing exercises. They are as diverse as their continent: they represent a variety of ethnic groups; they are bilingual or even trilingual; they practice several denominations of Christianity as well as Islam; and they have big dreams for themselves. Being able to come to the US is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them, and spending a year here opens so many doors for them when they return home. Most importantly, they learn important lessons about cross-cultural communication, leadership, conflict resolution, critical thinking, and ethical decision-making - and those are skills every young person should have.
IRIS's program has shaped a vision of young Africans and Iowans as global citizens connecting and sharing with each other, building bridges across cultures and continents. We hope that members of Hamilton County will share this vision with us and will seriously consider hosting one of IRIS's African exchange students. It is truly an experience to be cherished, and the benefit to hosts, Iowan and African students, and communities is immeasurable. Interested persons should contact Anastasia Morrissey, YES Program Assistant, at (515) 292-7103 or firstname.lastname@example.org.