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Op-Ed

IVLP : A Game Changing Experience

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By EMN Updated: Nov 27, 2018 12:28 am
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Abu Metha(L) with Aman Thaker during the podcast interview at CSIS, Washington DC.

By Abu Metha

The International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) is indeed a game changer. With a dozen young rising leaders from the Indo-Pacific region, we travelled across six states of the US with experiences that will surely impact our lives in multiple ways. The three weeks project designed in the most professional manner included meets, visits, exchanges, conferences and cultural tours that gave us a wholesome experience of the United States.An experience to better understand America’s best practices, a closer understanding of its system of governance, a study of its infrastructure, observation of its PPP models and interactions with specialized professionals, civil society and entry into American homes opened our eyes to the American way. Other highlights included cultural experiences, sports events, road trips and even a dance with cowgirls and cowboys in a rodeo.

One got a first hand understanding of how a nation has been built on the foundations of democracy, freedom of speech and expression, private enterprise, transparency, community engagement and most importantly a deeply ingrained culture of meritocracy.

Talking with Mr. AkramR. Elias, a constitutional expert and President of the Capital Communications Group in Washington DC, we got a better understanding of the American constitution, the concept of 50 “independent nations” and why reservations were against the principles of meritocracy.  I got to understand the prevalence of meritocracy over reservations and how the hard work, quality and caliber of the individual were fundamental towards building of the most influential and powerful nation on the planet. While reservations do not exist, affirmative action played a role in adding healing touches. Affirmative action is the proactive effort to include minorities that have been historically marginalized due to discrimination.

Indeed the flowering and success of the human spirit must be driven by merit.

Our engagements with infrastructure agencies taught us that the involvement of the community, public advocacy and transparent financial plan of every project is the accepted norm. Major projects require citizens to directly or indirectly fund it and therefore their involvement from commissioning till retirement of the project is not only crucial but also mandatory, as at times taxes are introduced for specific projects. This democratic practice needs to be inculcated here too so thatcivil society does not have to forcefully push its way through. We need government agencies to overcome the discomfort of shared responsibilities.

Shared responsibilities means more transparency and thereby positive steps can be taken towards good governance, in combating corruption and in addressing the “political and bureaucratic appetite” on which western and foreign investors had serious apprehensions.

A major highlight of the IVLP is the home hospitalities where we got hosted by voluntary American families. It felt special to be invited into the private spaces of American homes and have conversations over the dining table and get a true feel of the American family atmosphere while appreciating the importance of family values in today’s modern times. Beth Crandell and Beth Weitz Katz, welcomed us into their lives, made us feel special and we left with tight hugs, lifelong memories and hopefully two wonderful American family friends for all times to come.

One stand out moment for me was a podcast interview I did with the fine gentleman Mr. AmanThakkar, a Research Associate, at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) for CogitAsia that got beamed to a global audience. The CSIS is a globally acknowledged independent think thank on strategic international issues and security matters headquartered in Washington DC. It was more than satisfying that I got the opportunity to sound the voice of the Naga people for peace and political resolution of our decades old political movement from the capital of the world’s most powerful nation. I spoke of the impact of generations growing up under an environment of conflict and violence and the need for peace which will pave the way for progress and development and thereby create opportunities for the vibrant Naga youth who have been denied opportunities for decades. (https://soundcloud.com/csis-57169780/spotlight-on-nagaland-post-insurgency)

Every Naga family has felt the pain of the blood and tears and therefore we value real peace more than anything else.

At the MARICOPA County in Arizona, we got the opportunity to get a closer observation of the painful journey of the native Americans thanks to an excellent presentation by Mr. Nathan Pryor, Director of Policy and Government Relations, Maricopa Association of Governments, who himself is a Native American. We appreciated that the Native Americans now occupy “sovereign nations” within the United States with sovereign rights over their resources and laws.

A visit to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was an emotional experience. As we took a US Navy boat ride into the ocean and got reminded of the bombing scenarios of 7th December, 1941, I got reminded of my own birthplace, Kohima, where the Japanese invasion into the heart of Asia and the Indian subcontinent was halted in what is now considered as Britain’s greatest battle. This history, and the fact that the Naga people are located in between the ancient Chinese and Indian civilizations and on the gateway to the ASEAN region, explains the strategic geopolitical dynamics of where I come from.

Our IVLP group was particularly fortunate. Apart from being the first ever group on the Info-Pacific strategy, we also got to see some of the most amazing places. Our itinerary included Miami in Florida, Scottsdale and Phoenix in Arizona, Honolulu in Hawaii, the national parks of Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, and of course we walked the corridors of power in Washington DC.

Having grown up reading Louis L’Amour novels and having followed the Sackett series, my imagination was taken to a different level as we road tripped through the deserts of Arizona and the Grand Canyon and had a Rodeo experiece at Buffalo Chip in Cave Creek thanks to Bethany Carol, our liaison with Global Ties Arizona. We even did some wine tasting with jazz music at a speakeasy place.

As our colleague and a rising star of the Philippines, Ms. Anna Mae Yu Lamentillo says in her article (https://news.mb.com.ph/2018/10/13/ivlp-a-game-changer/) the IVLP is indeed a game changer. The entire experience is life changing; and it’s no wonder that the programme has more than 300 heads of state in its alumni. One’s opinion and worldview gets impacted and you tend to look at the world from a different angle. We got to understand why the best practices of America are proven, and therefore the need to replicate them in a progressive manner.

We all aspire to contribute towards a better society by impacting lives positively and in achieving progressive change and the IVLP experience will go a long way in enabling us to face the challenges that lie ahead.

Mister fantastic, Virgil Cioflec, our liaison officer, told me early in the program, that at the end of it all, we will remember the laughter and banter and value the friendships. He was absolutely right. I now have wonderful friends in a dozen countries across the Indo-Pacific region with whom I continue to network.

On the first day of our programme, the warm and graceful Ms. Janice Brummund, from the US Department of State and Ms. Jacquelyne Conley of FHI360, welcomed us to the IVLP programme and to the United States on behalf of the US taxpayer, as the IVLP is a publicly funded programme.  And likewise I am sincerely grateful to the American taxpayer for an experience that is indeed a game changer.

The author is the Founding Editor of Eastern Mirror and can be reached at https://twitter/abumetha

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By EMN Updated: Nov 27, 2018 12:28:54 am