The J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program is about practical work experience and cross-cultural exchange. The American Internships for African Students Program, organized by These Numbers Have Faces, is a perfect example of valuable professional experience and meaningful international connections.
Investing in Africa’s Young Leaders
These Numbers Have Faces has its sights set on the future–the sustainable future of Africa, to be exact. The fact that this future lies in the hands of Africa’s youth is not one lost on them. This is what inspired Founder and CEO Justin Zoradi to launch the organization in the first place. The organization’s name attests to changing the conversation about Africa:
“Every day we hear terrible statistics that document the harsh reality of our world. We chart war, calculate disease, analyze famine, and graph slavery. Africa is often at the heart of these calculations as we’ve all seen the numbers about Africa that paint a negative picture of the continent. Our name expresses a world-changing idea. We don’t see Africa as hopeless, we see it full of life and color, light and opportunity. While figures and data are important tools to measuring complex social issues, we believe that there are people behind the statistics. A number is difficult to connect with, but when we see those numbers as real people, we find a purpose that compels us to action.”
Based in Portland, Oregon, These Numbers Have Faces got its start in 2008 and has been making strides in Africa ever since. It aspires to equip the continent’s up-and-coming leaders with the skills to promote enduring development. Since its inception, it has expanded in both breadth and vision. Today, it maintains programs in Rwanda, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, and South Africa. Its roster of programs includes the Accelerate Academy Entrepreneurship Fellowship, Women’s Empowerment Program, Hope Starts Here Refugee Initiative, American Internships for African Students Program, and University Leadership Program.
Partnering to Bring Interns from Africa to the U.S.
Cultural Vistas has had the privilege of partnering with These Numbers Have Faces and their American Internships for African Students Program. Through the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program, we provide visa sponsorship for the incoming university students. This has facilitated internships with Amazon Lab 126, Allion USA, TMT Development, and Aspen Heights.
Both U.S. and in-country staff working to make these internships a reality. The students (referred to by These Numbers Have Faces staff as scholars) and the program staff form close bonds: they refer to each other as family and alumni often invest financially in future participants. These genuine connections are empowering the participants to be vehicles for social change.
In June 2016, four Rwandan students–Samantha Ahirwe, Berthine Nijyembere, Benson Nsanzabandi, and Alice Mukashyaka–began their own J-1 Visa internship journeys in Oregon and Texas.
“You can’t imagine how much fun I’m having,” says Benson, Accounting intern for TMT Development in Oregon. “Our orientation week with learning a new culture, and even learning how to make a pizza, is something I will never forget.”
The interns’ training experiences have also introduced them to a new culture. Alice, a computer software engineering intern in Oregon with Allion USA, says: “Being an intern in the United States allows me to learn about a different culture, meet great people and have new experiences in my workplace and city.”
These new experiences are ones Samantha, a business intern with Aspen Heights in Texas, can also attest to and views as an integral part of her own personal growth: “The best part of my internship is the exploring and learning process about both my career and a new culture. This helps me evolve daily.”
For Berthine, Aspen Heights’ business intern, she has valued “meeting new people, experiencing a new culture, and gaining new knowledge. “I can’t wait to share all of what I’ve learned when I return home.”
The True Meaning of the J-1 Visa Exchange Program
Benson, Alice, Samantha, and Berthine reflect the potential of These Numbers Have Faces’ participants. They illustrate the driving force behind the organization’s passion for Africa’s youth.
Ultimately, the organization wants these internships to contribute to their scholars’ vocational and personal success. Its pride in its students and their training programs reflects the organization’s devotion to Africa’s future leaders.
Yet, the organization itself symbolizes far more than this. In committing to the long-term growth of its scholars, These Numbers Have Faces has established a palpable, lasting impact. This impact depicts the true objective of the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program at its very best.
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