1st of March, 2011
100 years 100 women– My IVLP Experience
Last March I had a wonderful chance to meet and learn from powerful women and men who are dedicating their efforts for supporting women leadership and training emerging women leaders. Women leaders are the key people in grass root NGOs and schools that works with youth, mobilizes volunteers and community resources to help people in need, and government officials, legislators who are working for greater government accountability and civic participation in the U.S. Equally dear to me was the opportunity I was granted to make friends with over ninety dedicated women from all over the world who broadened my perspective of women’s issues around the world. This great opportunity was provided to me by the U.S. Department of State’s special IVLP Program which aimed at marking the 100th anniversary of international women’s day.
One of the highlights of this trip was attending the International women of courage awards ceremony. Hearing the stories and achievement of nine courageous women from various countries who were honored from the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and seeing them in person was very moving and exciting experience. These women were political activists, educators and lawyers promoting human rights in their countries. As a young woman working for an account-able democracy and rule of law in my country, it was very inspiring for me to see 20 years old Belarusian girl who fights for her country’s civil society freedom.
During various meetings and gatherings throughout my trip, one thing I came to appreciate most in the U.S. was the long-standing culture of volunteerism and community spirit that seem to be an integral part of everyday life of ordinary citizens in the US. I was pleasantly surprised to see many innovative and successful programs and incentives for especially young people to voluntarily engage in various activities to support their communities. This, in my opinion, is one of the reasons behind America’s success and is one of the important things that we as young Mongolians should strive to promote in our country.
These volunteerism programs usually start in secondary schools and they offer opportunities for students to serve for their neighborhoods. The main goal of these programs is to help the youth to understand and feel their role and significance of participation in making changes in their communities in addition to helping them acquire new knowledge and skills through an interaction with various members of their communities.
One innovative way of community engagement I liked and experienced was a thrift shop in Bozeman, Montana where I volunteered. It sells second hand goods, books, house hold items donated by locals in very low price to general public or poor people that has special vouchers giving by the municipal government to obtain goods. The profit made by this shop goes to supporting help center for victims of domestic violence and suicide crisis phone etc. My task was to sort basement full of clothes by sex, size and to hang them. I was told these kinds of tasks at the shop are always done by volunteers. I am happy that I was able to contribute at least two hours of my time for helping this community. This was the least I can do for the American people from whom I was learning a lot. While I was volunteering at the shop, I was wondering why we Mongolians have this odd tradition of not giving one’s old clothes to strangers.
Another aspect of the program that I enjoyed very much was meetings with women leaders and visiting organizations who support equality, empowerment and leadership of women and learning about their programs and projects. For instance, we met with UN Women officials, learned about the White House project for women, the Emerge America, Women Building and etc. Among all these visits, I have to mention my visit to the League of Women Voters. I was formerly familiar with it through a film called "Iron Jaw Angels." This film is an inspiring story about suffragist movement and struggles of American women in the beginning of twentieth century to obtain right to vote. When I first entered the League of Women Voters, I realized that I came to the very origin of this movement. Seeingthe pictures of real heroes there was truly inspiring and moving. It was wonderful to see their legacy is still continuing and encouraging many women to be proactive and participatory in our democracy.Nomingerel together with Asia Pacific group
Finally, as a citizen of relatively homogeneous society, after visiting 5 cities in this short time, it was fascinating for me to observe the diversity of American people, their culture and way of life. Bison traffic jam in the Yellowstone, farmers with big jeeps in Montana, home hospitality of an adorable couple that lives in the forest near Bozeman, Mamma Mia, sex museum and Guggenheim in New York city, The Senate session launch with Christian Gospel in Sacramento Capitol, wine tasting in Napa Valley; “Mongolian chicken” dish in Chinatown of San Francisco, and me puzzling to answer the first question of a school kid I met in Washington DC which was “How is politics in Mongolia?” were all unforgettable moments of my trip. I will do my best so that my experience of the IVLP program will not stay as just good memories, but go on to be an inspiration for me to continue supporting and promoting women leadership in my country and work to strengthen the future collaborations between Mongolia and America in