The City of Dayton Continues to Wage Peace
And you can play a role!
Submitted by Laurel Kerr, Volunteer Coordinator
The City of Dayton Bosnia and Herzegovina Annual Student Leadership Exchange program allows Bosnian high school students and a few of their teachers to visit the Dayton area for three weeks. During this time, these students join students from local high schools, colleges and universities in learning about democracy, diversity, volunteerism, leadership, human rights, and having fun in the USA. At the end of their time here, the Bosnian students present a project idea they plan to implement in their own community, with some financial support from the Bosnian government for each team project. This spring, students representing seven cities designed seven projects to be implemented over the next year. These projects all include a component to encourage people of different faiths and ethnicities to meet each other and together address issues such as climate change, the environment and opportunities for disabled children.
An important element of the exchange program is the opportunity for students to enjoy a slice of American life by staying with a host family. This is the second time my husband and I have hosted, and we find it to be an incredible learning experience as well as a chance to play a tiny role in global shifts. As an example, Melika, one of the two students who stayed with us this spring, remarked at the dinner table one evening that she could not believe she, a Bosnian Muslim, had to come to America to learn she does not have to hate Serbs (whose religion is Orthodox Christian). She added that while she has a hard time forgiving the Serbs who killed her family members and traumatized her mother during the war (which ended in 1995 with the Dayton Peace Accord), she realizes the Serbian girl with whom she shares a seat on the van while traveling from one Dayton destination to another has become her friend. She cares about her, and this girl had nothing to do with planning or executing war strategies. Melika shared that this realization was life changing. Indeed! This is a lesson in caring about others we all need to hear, especially when society often reinforces “othering.”
Carolyn Rice, Montgomery County Commissioner and League Member, also has experience hosting students and had this to say:
“My husband Mike and I love hosting students from other countries whenever we get a chance. During the 2015-2016 school year, we hosted a 16-year-old female student from Mostar, Bosnia Herzegovina through Dayton Rotary’s Youth Exchange. Two years ago, we hosted a male student from Sarajevo through the FCYLA program, and we recently hosted a 17-year-old Muslim student from Visoko, Bosnia Herzegovina. Although all three were from Bosnia Herzegovina, they differed in their religious backgrounds, interests, and cities. Yet we found them to be so much like teenagers here. Their dreams for their future, their concerns for our planet, and their knowledge of American culture surprised us. Having a Muslim student living with us during Ramadan gave us a chance to experience Iftar and Eid first hand. They always thank us for our hospitality, but the truth is that we always feel we are the lucky ones to have our horizons expanded and our hearts touched by these incredible young people who will be part of our family for years to come!”
This program is funded by a Cooperative Agreement from the U.S. Department of State between the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo and The City of Dayton. The Dayton Mediation Center manages the project for the City of Dayton, with support from the National Conference for Community and Justice of Greater Dayton and the Dayton Sister City Committee.
The spring exchange was a make-up due to COVID in 2020. The next exchange is scheduled for October 21 – November 12, 2022. For information about becoming a host family, contact Miranda.Brooks@daytonohio.gov.
More information about the recent exchange can be found in this Dayton Daily News article.