Since the return of the Taliban to power in 2021, American Councils for International Education and our staff in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have worked diligently to provide educational opportunities for displaced Afghan youths and adults. Tajikistan has provided refuge to many Afghan refugees who have been displaced due to the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. With limited educational opportunities, the Leadership and English Advancement Program (LEAP) for youth and the U.S. English Training for Afghan Refugees (USET) programs have provided a structured learning opportunity for Afghan refugees in Tajikistan. We are proud to give updates on these efforts to support displaced Afghans.
The LEAP program, funded by the U.S. Department of State, provides a unique opportunity for Afghan youth to improve their English language and critical thinking abilities and develop leadership skills. After three weeks of immersive and interactive English language training, the 46 participants and 18 staff members welcomed 200 guests to their closing ceremony on May 29th. Guests included families, LEAP alumni in Tajikistan, and the American Councils Dushanbe staff. A delegation from the U.S. Mission to Afghanistan and the Department of State joined the festivities, including Mario Crifo (Public Affairs Counselor of the U.S. Mission to Afghanistan), Elizabeth Howard (Deputy Public Affairs Officer of the U.S. Mission to Afghanistan), and Rob Joswiak (Afghanistan P.D. Desk Officer). They were joined by representatives from the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe, Lisa Heilbronn (Public Affairs Officer) and Tahmina Niyazov (Public Affairs Program Officer).
It was a beautiful day to show off everything participants learned during their time on the LEAP program. LEAP campers escorted guests through different stations where they learned about the various components of the camp program. Guests also attended the official LEAP Closing Ceremony, where participants presented their media and photography projects. Lisa Heilbronn and Mario Crifo addressed the LEAP campers and congratulated them on their accomplishments. LEAP staff spoke about their experience on program, and parents expressed their gratitude to American Councils and the State Department for this impactful program.
The following morning LEAPers said goodbye to the Puli Sangin Resort Complex, their residence for the past three weeks, to head home to Vahdat, Tajikistan. There were few dry eyes as staff and participants said goodbye to their LEAP colleagues, but the friendships and memories made will always remain in their hearts. American Councils is grateful for the hard work of our LEAP program staff, participants, and everyone who made LEAP possible. We are excited to see this program grow and make lasting impacts on the lives of young refugees.
In addition to attending the LEAP Closing Ceremony and meeting LEAP campers and alumni, the Department of State delegation met with alumni of the U.S. English Training for Afghan Refugees (USET) program, which provides teaching training to displaced Afghans ages 18-35. The meeting allowed the delegation to gain insights into the transformative effects of the program on the educational and personal development of the USET alumni. The alumni shared their academic achievements and their challenges during their journey. The discussion also emphasized the importance of continued support and opportunities for Afghan students to pursue higher education. More than 35 USET alumni participated in the meeting.
The Department of State delegation had the opportunity to ask about alumni networking with the USET Program alumni from Albania and other countries. They discussed available opportunities for Afghan people, and participants shared follow-up projects that they organized or planned to help their community teach English back in Afghanistan and Vahdat.
The visit of the U.S. Department of State delegation and U.S. Mission to Afghanistan provided an invaluable opportunity to engage with the Afghan refugee community in Vahdat and interact with LEAP and USET program alumni. The delegation's engagement with the alumni highlighted the positive impact of these programs on the lives of individuals and their potential to contribute to the future development of Afghanistan. Overall, the visit reaffirmed the importance of international collaboration and continued efforts to address the needs of Afghan refugees and empower Afghan youth through education, leadership development, and support programs.