The Yearly Wind-down: Reflections on IVLP’s 2016 Projects

Winston Churchill once said, “Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing but of reflection.” With that idea in mind, the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) team at Cultural Vistas recently mulled over the year that was in 2016.

And there was a lot to reflect upon with a record 292 visitors and 42 projects in 2016!

Join us as we take a look back at some of our favorite moments from this year.

2016 U.S. Elections

A presidential election year always promises more politically-themed projects. This year was no different, with five of our programs covering the U.S. elections process or government and democracy in general.

Women in politics is a topic we see often in IVLP and in other State Department-sponsored programs given the United States’ commitment to women and young girls both domestically and abroad.

This October, we were pleased to welcome five female politicians from Nigeria for a 10-day program observing the U.S. elections process and the role of women in the American political system.

During their first stop in Concord, New Hampshire, the participants were introduced to the U.S. system of federalism and New Hampshire’s state government processes.

In Rochester, New York, the group participated in a volunteer phone banking to help get out the vote on Election Day.

Finally, our Nigerian participants spent Election Day in the Washington, D.C. area where they observed the voting process at a polling station in Arlington, Virginia.

Upon returning home, Remi Sonaiya, a former Presidential candidate in Nigeria and one of our five participants, authored this article reflecting on her impressions on federalism, volunteerism, and her U.S. experience.

Observing the voter check-in process on Election Day at a polling station in Arlington, Virginia. ?: Michelle Kulikauskas

Disability Rights

Through our work with IVLP, we also have had the opportunity to further the public discussion on disability inclusion. Earlier in 2016, we hosted a program with a Japanese delegation on inclusive education for youth with disabilities.

During their three weeks in the States, they met with a number of disability organizations and communities to learn more about advocacy strategies, explored best practices and resources for teacher training in human rights, and examined federal and local support for welfare and education in the United States.

While in Washington, D.C., the group had lunch with a well-known disability inclusion advocate, Yoshiko Dart, wife of the late “Godfather of the ADA,” Justin Whitlock Dart, Jr.

Sharing lunch with disability advocate Yoshiko Dart ?: Sarah Amin

In their next city, New York, the group met with Ambassador Jean Kennedy-Smith, founder of the international arts and disability organization, Very Special Arts (VSA). The program model has since been incorporated into the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Department of VSA and Inclusion.

With Amb. Jean Kennedy-Smith. ?: Fred Harriman

Finally, in California, the group visited the well-respected Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley –and met four-time Paralympian Trooper Johnson, who is now the Youth Sports Program Coordinator at the Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program.

IVLP visitors with wheelchair Basketball Hall of Famer Trooper Johnson. ?: Fred Harriman


One takeaway many visitors have after their programs is the strong sense of volunteerism and the strength of nongovernmental organizations in the United States.

We try to incorporate community service activities in our programs not only to emphasize the importance of an active civil society, but also to provide an interactive means of showcasing America’s sense of community.

In the spring, we hosted another group from Japan for a project focused on diversity in the workplace. In addition to examining the costs of discrimination, assessing the structural road blocks women face in the job market, and observing how corporations follow Equal Employment Opportunity policies in the workplace, we also incorporated a volunteer activity to introduce them to corporate social responsibility.

While in Dallas, the group joined Hunger Busters, a charity organization focused on providing a much-needed third meal to food insecure children. Within two hours, they helped make around 700 meals!

Making sandwiches together with Hunger Busters volunteers. ?: Chelsea Marshall

Meetings with Public Figures

One of the biggest surprises we can “plan” for our visitors is meetings with public figures. Sometimes these meetings are set up well in advance and other times at the very last minute. And sometimes they are not planned at all!

This spring, nine visitors from four Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) countries in Africa traveled to the U.S. on an entrepreneurship and small business development program to observe job creation strategies and examine legal and regulatory policies that allow entrepreneurs to flourish.

While in Salt Lake City, the group attended the 10th Annual Governor’s Utah Economic Summit and took advantage of the opportunity to meet and snap a photo with the Governor of Utah himself, Gary Herbert.

Participants pose with Utah Gov. Gary Herbertat. ?: Nadia Cruz

In July, members of our “Global Leadership in Aviation Safety” program visited the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church during their visit to Atlanta, Georgia. While attending services, an unexpected highlight of their program took place as they just happened to meet Christine King Farris, Martin Luther King Jr.’s sister.

?: Melissa Grant

Since beginning its work as an IVLP National Programming Agency and implementing partner in November 2011, Cultural Vistas has now welcomed 1,235 visitors from more than 160 countries to the United States as part of more than 175 different projects.

We couldn’t continue this essential work without all the many partners across the Global Ties U.S. network, our tremendous participants, and committed colleagues at the U.S. Department of State.

We look forward to another successful year in 2017!