Three Exchange Alumni Recognized as Emerging Young Leaders

Three of the winners of the U.S. State Department’s Emerging Young Leaders Award are alumni of State Department exchange programs.

The award is given to ten outstanding young adults (ages 16-24) nominated and selected by Embassy staff around the world for their efforts to expand civic engagement, improve education, and promote interfaith dialogue and conflict resolution within their communities.

Jahongir Olimov hails from Rasht Valley, Tajikistan, and is a coordinator for the NGO Marifatnoki; a youth outreach organization that focuses on developing English language skills and leadership skills in an underserved area of Tajikistan. In 2015 and 2016, Jahongir led projects aimed at preventing young people from joining extremist and terrorist groups. Jahongir also implemented an interconnected system of Marifatnoki youth groups throughout Rasht Valley to promote greater intercommunity communication. Jahongir is an alumnus of the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) and spent a year in the United States attending Lakota East High School in Ohio. After returning to Tajikistan, Jahongir took English courses in the English Access Microscholarship Program and later became a teacher for the same program.  Jahongir also was a team member for the project “Volunteer to Prosper Our Community,” which won an Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund grant and brought 1800 youth together for training in civic education focused on volunteering, leadership and community service.

Raj Kumar from Umerkot, Pakistan, is an active member of the Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network and has served in many leadership positions, most recently as General Secretary for the Islamabad/Rawalpindi Chapter. In these positions, Raj won grants totaling $10,000 to implement projects on women’s empowerment, interreligious understanding, and countering violent extremism. One of Raj’s projects, “Days of Interreligious Youth Action – Promoting Peace through Arts, Sports, Dialogue and Music,” brought together 500 community members from different ethnic and religious backgrounds to paint and share messages of peace through art and Sufi music, as well as teach teamwork and sportsmanship lessons.  Raj is an alumnus of the Global UGRAD program, which places outstanding international students at U.S. universities for one semester of study, community service, professional development, and cultural enrichment. Raj spent his semester studying business at Juniata College in Pennsylvania.

Noé Petitjean is from Arlon, Belgium, and is a passionate promoter of intercultural and interfaith understanding. Noé founded Our Shared Difference, a project that brings together youth from different cultural, religious, and economic backgrounds to engage in dialogue about faith. Our Shared Difference has brought teenagers to the European Parliament to discuss European identity and members to local mosques to discuss religious differences. Under the motto “gather our difference for humanity,” the organization hopes to solve issues like overconsumption, disease, and political conflicts through the multi-background approach. Prior to founding the organization, Noé participated in the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Summer Institute at Purdue University in Indiana and took classes in International Diplomacy, Media and Journalism, Global Problems, Democracy, and Civic Education with 35 other European Fellows and 10 US Fellows.

The Emerging Young Leaders will be in Washington, D.C. on May 4th for an award ceremony and to attend trainings and meetings with officials from the U.S. government and NGOs. The participants will then travel to Austin, Texas, to attend more meetings and develop project plans for initiatives in their home countries, which they will share with each other briefly in Washington before departing for their home countries to continue the experience through virtual exchange.