Despite the tumult in Washington, DC and the declining emphasis on the US presence in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), America still maintains strong links to the region through a network of NGOs and service organizations that promote bilateral educational, cultural, and program ties.
This story has many chapters and one of the most important is AMIDEAST (American-Mideast Educational and Training Services), founded in 1951, and which today impacts "the lives of half a million individuals a year - improving educational opportunities and quality, strengthening local institutions, and developing language and professional skills critical for success in the global economy."
I served on the AMIDEAST Board in the past, and I was greatly impressed in a recent meeting with Chris Shinn, Country Director for Morocco, by the growing breadth of its activities, from providing an array of testing services for students who want to come to the US, conducting language programs, and managing scholarship and training programs, to building educational and professional programs to enable the next generation of leaders in the kingdom. He told me that his goal was to "animate the space much more," referring both to its offices and to its role in the kingdom.
Walking into its Casablanca office, you can't but be impressed by the students outside prepping for a class and the many activities going on in the classrooms. Multiply this by 20 offices in 11 Arab countries and you can see that AMIDEAST is a key link to American educational programs for Arab students even during these difficult times.
A quick review of their programs only starts to tell the story of what's going on in country. Add to this the job fairs, university open houses, study abroad programs for US and international students, and developing innovative programs for advanced training for professionals who want to accelerate their careers, AMIDEAST has a full slate of offerings including:
Entrepreneurship training that includes training, support, and mentoring to enhance both the knowledge and experience of being an entrepreneur
Empowering underserved youth and women through programs in English language, leadership, entrepreneurship, and lifelong communications skills
Workforce skills development based on market needs to increase opportunities for employment
AMIDEAST also plays a key role in connecting Moroccan youth to their peers in the US and elsewhere through the YES (Youth Exchange and Study) Department of State-funded scholarship program that provides them the opportunity to live and study in the United States for a full academic year. It is also quite proud of its various language programsfor non-Moroccans, which include site visits, cultural experiences, exposure to the mosaic of Moroccan culture, and interactions with Moroccans from varied backgrounds.
Committed to building the next generation of leaders in the region, AMIDEAST participates in the US Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) Tomorrow's Leaders Scholarship Program. Aimed at capable high school seniors in the region who lack the means to attend university, the program provides four-year university scholarships and internship opportunities at select institutions of higher learning in the Middle East. "The primary objective is to build a cadre of university-age leaders who are civic-minded, intellectually able, and professionally skilled, who will become the community, business, and national leaders of the future," according to its website.
As the exclusive reseller of Educational Testing Services (ETS) in the region, AMIDEAST reaches throughout the educational communities in the Arab World. Its English language training in Morocco covers levels from sixth graders through professionals wanting to enhance their English skills. For over five years, it has played a key role in providing technical training in the southern provinces.
Through its six offices, it provides an array of programs including a media center with cultural and library facilities, a skills training center which includes the "Keep Up" program to build IT and soft skills to compete for in-demand jobs, and counseling for high-schoolers and university students to help them prepare for employment opportunities.
Morocco has offered AMIDEAST the opportunity to expand its programs to include vocational offerings as well as French language and capacity building training for NGOs and CSOs in Ben Guerir. It is now the leading training provider in the South, and its programs in employability, entrepreneurship, women's innovation circles, and capacity building are helping shape future leaders at all levels. Importantly, its efforts include programs targeting school drop-outs to enable them to be employed.
And AMIDEAST is not stopping to take a breather! According to Shinn, it has recently adopted a three-year growth plan detailing its agenda to increase its services to local companies and corporations to better equip their employees to meet the challenges of global competition.
The website notes that "For over 50 years, AMIDEAST has worked to expand educational opportunities for Moroccan students and facilitate increased academic and cultural exchange with the United States. Through scholarships, educational advising, and English language and skills training, AMIDEAST's offices in Rabat and Casablanca have come to play a vital role in strengthening ties between the United States and the diverse Maghreb region." This captures the role and goal of its efforts.
Perhaps it is because of the vital services provided by organizations such as AMIDEAST that Congress continues to allocate funds to many of the programs mentioned above. By whatever metric is used, the experiences provided to Moroccans and Americans touched by these programs are invaluable. They reinforce the belief that we are indeed joined by common values and interests that go beyond immediate political challenges and build ties for long-term intercultural understanding and cooperation.