CDI Is Two Years Old! Here’s Where We Are

Today marks the second anniversary of Learning Life’s Citizen Diplomacy Initiative (CDI).  On this day two years ago, we held our first live international family-to-family video dialogue between two American families in Washington DC and one Senegalese family in Dakar, the capital of Senegal.

Since then, we’ve conducted over thirty video dialogues between families in DC, Dakar, San Salvador, El Salvador, and Jerash, Dialogue between American and Jordanian familiesJordan.  We also completed our first cross-national, family-to-family project in 2018 in which our families from DC shared community photos with families in Dakar and Jerash, yielding an international photo album on five themes: public life, food culture, challenges, bright spots, and the future.  More on that project here.

This year, we are conducting our second international project engaging families in DC, San Salvador, Dakar and Jerash in deeper learning about food culture through interviews with families abroad and projects guests.  This second project signals our growing focus on advancing the health of the families and communities we work with in the long-term.  Health is fundamental to everyone, and is affected by a wide array of local to global issues, from food security and water safety to climate change and terrorism.  This makes our focus on health important not only to the vitality of CDI families but to their understanding of theSenegalese family eating lunch together world.  More on this project here.

In March, my wife and I took our first visit to one of our CDI partners, the Collectif pour la Promotion des Groupes Vulnerables (Collective for the Advancement of Vulnerable Groups) or CPGV in Dakar, Senegal.  That trip, in collaboration with the Community Health Division of the Georgetown University Medical Center, resulted in a comparative study of the food culture of CDI families in Washington DC and Dakar that was presented at three conferences.  It also strengthened Learning Life’s relationship with the CPGV and the Senegalese families with which we work.   More on that trip and food culture research presentation here and here.

Kaliah&MarleyThis year we also started a mentoring program.  In 2017, I began informally mentoring one of our CDI kids, James, who was present at that inaugural dialogue on August 27 two years ago.  I noticed over time that James exhibited greater self-confidence, knowledge and interest in world affairs.  Consequently, early this year, my wife began mentoring a teenage girl, Samya, who, after expressing initial enthusiasm about CDI, had gradually disengaged.   Overnight, Samya’s engagement with CDI returned.   These anecdotes, along with research on the benefits of mentoring, spurred the start of our mentoring program.  With thirteen mentors now and growing, we are very pleased to see our mentors and mentees’ mutual enthusiasm as they explore the world together through visits to metro DC museums, embassies, cultural festivals, universities, restaurants and other sites as well as reading, documentary viewing, map learning and discussion.  Next up: extending this one-on-one mentoring to our CDI youth abroad via monthly video dialogues with volunteer mentors in the USA.  More on our mentoring program here.

I will have more to report at the end of this year as we complete our food culture project, and plan for the coming years.  CDI remains purposefully small at this early developmental stage as we test-learn-adapt, slowly expand, and do our best to provide our families with a quality experience.  Developing a novel, family-based, international model for citizen diplomacy is challenging, especially because we currently work exclusively with lower-income families.  But it continues to be an exciting and rewarding calling.

Paul Lachelier, Ph.D.
Founder & Director, Learning Life