Mia Lazar (right) is a DYLEP alumna and the founder of the Filmshakers Festival. (photo courtesy of Mia Lazar)

Alumni from our flagship program, The Experiment in International Living, and The Experiment Digital, our interactive virtual youth exchange, have transformed their learning into action in their communities—taking on challenges from bigotry to a national rise in traffic accidents, and leaving a more understanding and connected world in their wake.

“I [wanted] the audience to come away from the film festival motivated and hopeful—motivated in that they feel like they can help with change and hopeful that change can happen."

Mia Lazar, an alumna of The Experiment Digital (formerly known as Digital Young Leaders Exchange Program or DYLEP), combatted bigotry and promoted peace through the power of film this fall. When one of Lazar’s friends was injured while counter-protesting against Unite the Right, a white supremacist rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017, Lazar knew that she had to start dialogue among local youth to advocate for a more just society. She came up with the Filmshakers Festival, a film festival enabling high schoolers to share their voices, and after a year of intense planning and funding from the Digital Young Leaders Exchange Program Fellowship, the festival was held in October 2019 in Charlottesville—to great success. Many community members attended the festival, judged entries, promoted it online, and donated to sustain it for 2021. Ultimately, the festival’s grand prize went to Coming Together: The Virtues of Food, a film about a group of high schoolers who invite their community to join them in celebrating Ramadan.

“I [wanted] the audience to come away from the film festival motivated and hopeful—motivated in that they feel like they can help with change and hopeful that change can happen,” says Lazar.

Through the Stevens Initiative’s Small Alumni Grants, six other recent alumni from The Experiment Digital—Hiba Akbi, Maged Alawadhi, Nayantara Arora, Celine Zahia Bendekoum, Ashley Lin, and Zhulia Omar—have been  implementing projects in the United States, Algeria, Iraq, and Yemen, to address a wide range of needs in their individual communities.

One grantee, Maged Alawadhi, from Sana’a, Yemen, is collaborating with five additional alumni of The Experiment Digital on “Being Inspired to Make a Difference”, an entrepreneurship program they’ve create to provide training and support to women in Sana’a. Through the program, previously unemployed women will develop sewing, marketing, and professional skills, building a foundation that will enable them to start their own small businesses. Zhulia Omar, from Kurdistan, Iraq, is responding to a recent rise in traffic accidents in her local community by working with the municipal government and a fellow Experiment Digital alumnus to identify dangerous intersections and install stop signs. Nayantara Arora, who is also an alumna of World Learning’s On-Demand Youth Leadership Program, has created the podcast series Speak Up/Speak Out which shares the personal stories of immigrant and refugee youth in Portland to foster cross-cultural connections and empathetic exchange. Arora and her team of local youth hope to change misconceptions, create trust among disparate communities, and showcase the power of storytelling.

The Experiment Digital is supported by the Stevens Initiative, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, with funding provided by the U.S. Government, and is administered by the Aspen Institute.
The Digital Young Leaders Exchange Program Fellowship is supported by the Putnam Foundation and World Learning board chair emerita Rosamond Delori.

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