USAID Beneficiaries Selected for State Department Exchange Program

Thursday, December 15, 2016
Young leaders from Open World Program 2016 gather for a selfie
Promoting Integration, Tolerance, and Awareness

Two inspiring young Georgians - Akaki Saginadze from Kutaisi in Imereti region and Shalala Amirjanova from Marneuli in Kvemo Kartli region - were among five winners selected for the U.S. State Department’s “Open World Program 2016,” which offers exchange visits to the U.S. for young leaders from post-Soviet countries. Shalala and Akaki are the youngest participants in the exchange program since it started operating in Georgia, in 2005.

Both Shalala and Akaki are active members of Youth Clubs supported by the USAID-funded “Promoting Integration, Tolerance, and Awareness (PITA)” program. PITA is implemented by the UN Association of Georgia and aims to integrate ethnic minorities and raise awareness and tolerance of ethnic and religious minorities in the country. 

The main theme of the Open World Program 2016 was social inclusion of ethnic minorities. Being selected for the program in November 2016 allowed Shalala and Akaki to travel to meet with community leaders, NGO representatives, university students, and local and federal government officials in Washington DC and in North Carolina.

Shalala and Akaki are active peer educators in the remote villages of their respective regions; conducting trainings and meetings advocating for tolerance and equal rights for all members of society and transforming the lives and attitudes of hundreds of people in Georgia.  

Through PITA, they have initiated dozens of youth-led activities on the inclusion and integration of ethnic and religious minorities. They have also conducted awareness raising campaigns and public events about gender equality, early marriage, literacy, girls’ education, healthy lifestyles and eco-friendly choices.

They see their participation in the Open World Program as an excellent opportunity to gain new experience and knowledge abroad that will help them to more effectively promote social inclusion in their own country:

“The Open World Program 2016 was a very important and extremely valuable experience,” says Akaki Saghinadze. “The USA stands out in terms of its cultural diversity. Within the Program we met with representatives of various religious minorities, politicians, professors and administrators of universities, and activists from non-profit organizations. They all shared with us their experience and approaches to diversity management.”

 “I had a great interest to learn more about social inclusion and the integration of ethnic minorities in the U.S,” says Shalala.  “I learned a lot about it and I also discovered that problems related to social integration in the U.S. are very similar to those we have in Georgia. I will do my best to apply the experience I gained in the U.S to my work in my own country. The Open World Program became a great motivator for me to continue volunteering even more, and to share my experience and knowledge with others.”