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Diplomacy is No Joke - March Update

As we bid farewell to women’s history month, we reflect on a hard month behind us. The anniversary of the pandemic declaration, the opening of the trial and the wounds of the killing of George Floyd, the continuing rise of Asian hate in this country, with a horrible shooting spree targeting Asian American women in Atlanta, and so much more to be concerned about in our world. At the end of this update, you will find a note about the current situation in Myanmar, which especially impacts the local Burmese community, and concerns all of us in West Michigan.

On the positive side, we celebrated women’s history, accomplishments and progress. We are proud to have two local women leaders participating in upcoming salon series for IVLP alumni, and are delighted to share the She Rocks Global podcast (which has a small Kalamazoo connection and lifts up perfectly imperfect women from around the globe). Thank you for reading and please do keep healthy and safe as, at least here in our neck of the woods, COVID-19 is wreaking havoc and case numbers are as high as they have been since December 2020, when we were in a very dark place. Wishing everyone a Spring filled with new beginnings, and hopefully a glimmer of a post-Covid world.

Topics include:

  • Celebrating Citizen Diplomacy at the Global Ties National Meeting

  • SheRocks Global Podcast - perfectly imperfect women rock

  • Recent and upcoming virtual programs in Kalamazoo

  • Local Burmese Community Fights for Democracy in Myanmar


Celebrating Citizen Diplomacy at the Global Ties U.S. National Meeting - Exchange Matters

A word cloud containing words like "Cultural Understanding", "Collaboration", "Shared Knowledge", from an activity at the meeting.
Word cloud screenshot from a brainstorming session at one of the Global Ties U.S. National Meeting workshops.

Last week, we attended the Global Ties U.S. National Meeting, bringing together some 1200 people who are passionate about international exchange and citizen diplomacy.

We attended a variety of plenary sessions, and workshops, building bonds and increasing our professional capacity to continue bringing valuable, enriching exchanges here to Kalamazoo and West Michigan in general. With regional briefings, a plenary on the climate crisis featuring Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, and former Secretary of State John Kerry. There were also professional development, networking opportunities, and more. Many of the sessions were developed and led by fellow members of the Global Ties U.S. network.

Two highlights from the conference were Global Ties U.S.' 60th anniversary celebration and the concluding keynote address made by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, stressing the importance of international exchange as a critical instrument in addressing myriad global crises. He also thanked member organizations for their resilience, creativity, and resolve this past year.

Recordings of the plenary sessions will be made available soon on the Global Ties U.S. YouTube channel.

Left to right, Nwabisa Mayema, Zoja Kukic, and Macarena Botta, IVLP alumnae who host a podcast.
SheRocks Global photo from podcast site (links below)

SheRocks Global Podcast

In honor of Women’s History Month, we wanted to share something super cool with a Kalamazoo connection. Three IVLP alumnae and women entrepreneurs, Macarena Botta of Uruguay, Nwabisa Mayema of South Africa, and Zoja Kukic of Serbia created a podcast called “SheRocks Global” which interviews “imperfectly perfect women from all over the world about their experiences, takeaways, challenges and future plans.” Most interviewees thus far are from outside North America and Western Europe.

We were lucky to have Zoja visit us in Kalamazoo in late 2018, pictured below center at a WMU football game. Their podcast is always a thoughtful conversation that’s never focused on “having one right answer”. You can read a Global Ties U.S. interview with the founders here.

IVLP visitors attending a Western Michigan University football game.

You can find SheRocks Global Podcast on their site, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and listen on your favorite app:


Education in the Digital Age - a Virtual IVLP

30 faces on a Zoom screen of the IVLP virtual program looking at educational technology.
A virtual visit with Professor Brian Horvitz of WMU (top right), looking at educational technology.

In early March, we had a subset of visitors from 24 countries join two special focus sessions on educational technology and how to reach students in a variety of spaces. Needless to say, in our COVID world, this project was especially relevant to many of our visitors’ day to day. They first were hosted by four speakers from the Van Buren Intermediate School District to discuss “Technology in Under Resourced Schools and Education for Disadvantaged Communities”. As experts in instructional technology and reaching rural migrant communities, their discussion focused on connecting highly mobile students with learning objectives using innovative technology.Their second visit was with Dr. Brian Horvitz of Western Michigan University’s Department of Educational Leadership, Research and Technology. It was fascinating for the visitors to meet with someone who has been teaching online, preparing educators for classrooms virtual and non, for more than a decade. Visitors came from:Argentina, Armenia, Bahrain, Brazil, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia, Estonia, The Gambia, Israel, Jordan, Republic of Kosovo, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malta, Mexico, Nigeria, Poland, Republic of North Macedonia, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, and Turkey.


Upcoming Virtual Programs

A stock image of a protest sign with the words "One World" overlaid on a painting of Earth from space.
The first of two “salon series” programs we will be participating in this April will focus on the climate crisis. This series of meetings and workshops is offered to IVLP alumni to discuss policy prescriptions and practical strategies for addressing climate disruptions.

March has been a busy month preparing for a robust Spring of programming! Our four upcoming programs, from two salon series for IVLP alumni on climate and youth engagement, to hosting senior leaders from universities in Panama looking at higher education, to a project focused on volunteerism and civic engagement, we will be hosting guests from dozens of countries while we safely keep our in-person office closed with COVID-19 on the rise here in Michigan. You can read all about our upcoming programs on our website. Also, we will be offering some virtual hospitality opportunities.

A screencapture of Zoom with 5 faces looking at a main screen showing someone's refrigerator interior.
During a hospitality with the Digital Education group in March, one visitor requested to see inside a fridge. The conversation opened up very wide with this unusual icebreaker!

We have two opportunities for 'virtual hospitality' coming up in May, on May 13 and May 14, with more to follow. These sessions have been extremely rewarding for those who have participated! What does virtual hospitality mean? Spend an hour or so on Zoom in conversation with up to 5 international visitors. You are encouraged to have friends and family join in, of course. No cooking required but recipe sharing is welcome! Please get in touch with us if you are interested!


Local Burmese Community Fights for Democracy in Myanmar

Locally, as reported in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave, the longstanding, large, and multiethnic Burmese community in Battle Creek has been raising awareness surrounding the issues facing what is for many their home country. Leaders have sought to bring attention to the issue and have urged the United States government to support the democratic resistance movements in Myanmar.

On February 1, 2021, a military coup was staged in the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). This coup was a response to the November 8 overwhelming, internationally-verified, electoral victory of the main pro-demoractic party in the country, the National League for Democracy (NLD), helmed by Aung San Suu Kyi.

In a companion piece, written by longtime Battle Creek resident Dr. Than Oo, he states that “these events are gravely concerning knowing the history of Burma and how the military has operated in the past. For me it is a deja vu [referring to the 1988 uprising and subsequent violent crackdown]. My heart sank to the pit of my stomach with an awful surreal feeling of dread when I first learned the news.” Dr. Oo is one of many involved in the organized peaceful demonstrations here in southwest Michigan to support democratic control in Myanmar.

The military junta has declared a state of emergency for one year, ostensibly to investigate voter fraud allegations made by that same military, and instigated a brutal crackdown against dissent. To date, at least 442 civilians, of every age, taking part in the national civil disobedience protests have been killed by Myanmar state security elements. The international community has attempted to affirm the veracity of the November 8 election and support civilian leadership of the country. In response to the ongoing crisis, the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, issued the following statement, criticizing the military’s actions and seeking a peaceful resolution.

A screenshotted Tweet from U.N. Secretary General António Guterres saying "I am deeply shocked by the killing of dozens of civilians, including children & young people, by security forces in Myanmar today. The continuing military crackdown is unacceptable and demands a firm, unified & resolute international response." It concludes with a link to a U.N. PR site.

Additionally, Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that the United States “stand[s] with the people of Burma”. On February 11, the United States issued a series of sanctions on the government and select military officers in Myanmar.

A screenshotted Tweet from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying, "The United States will continue to take firm action against those who perpetrate violence against the people of Burma as they demand the restoration of their democratically elected government. We stand with the people of Burma."

We at Colleagues International offer our condolences and support in this trying time. As our work aims to bridge what divides us by national, ethnic, religious and other identities through citizen diplomacy and grassroots exchange, we stand firmly opposed to hate and anti-democratic actions.

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