People all around the world tend to see other countries through its citizens. International volunteers are representatives of their respective countries. Volunteers’ interaction with communities shapes their opinion about their respective countries. A few days back when I attended the Future of Peace Summit, the most interesting part of the summit for me were stories of various Peace Corps volunteers. When I heard the story of a Peace Corps volunteer, who served 30 years back in rural Afghanistan and is still remembered by the community elder who inquired about him from the visiting US Ambassador, I was deeply moved by it. As Atlas Corps fellows, serving here in the US we all want to be remembered in good words by our host organizations and other people with whom we interact on a regular basis.
International exchange is also another way of breaking stereotypes and building bridges between different cultures. Clash of civilizations, as theorized by Samuel Huntington, can best be prevented by dialogue among different civilizations. Lack of exposure creates a number of misconceptions that can only be removed through increased contact. This is why Volunteer exchange is one of the finest policy actions to foster international peace and security. The international community also recognized Volunteerism as an important tool for peace and development and called for its integration in the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The story of another Peace Corps Volunteer – who after losing all his family in bloodshed in South Sudan escaped to Kenya and finally came to the US from his refugee camp as a young boy – was also very inspiring. This young volunteer was afraid of Muslims as he lost his family in a violent conflict between Muslims and Christians in South Sudan. In order to overcome his fear, he requested to be sent to a Muslim country and subsequently he was posted to Azerbaijan, where he developed such a good bond with the community that he not only extended his stay there but also returned to Azerbaijan after the end of his volunteer service.
What Atlas Corps is doing is also phenomenal; bringing emerging global leaders from around the world and placing them with US non-profits for 9-18 months is building bridges between the US and 76 countries, which the fellows represent. Connections, friendships and bonds that we build during our fellowship here will stay forever and transferred from one generation to another. These exchanges will break stereotypes and develop people to people contact, which is far more sustainable than government to government contact. Volunteer exchange also supports track II diplomacy that foster International peace and security as enshrined in the UN charter.