To celebrate Civic Engagement Month, we are highlighting our many inspiring alumni from our Study of U.S. Institutes (SUSI) for Global Student Leaders program. Through partnerships with U.S. universities and a series of interactive classroom activities, community-based projects, and site visits to U.S. cities of all sizes, SUSI students experience an in-depth investigation into program themes and enhance their understanding of American values.
Zacarias Filipe Chicuio of Mozambique participated in the 2020 SUSI for Global Student Leaders on Civic Engagement, with Meridian’s partner, Foundation for International Understanding Through Students (FIUTS) at the University of Washington, Seattle.
How would you define “Civic Engagement”?
My understanding of civic engagement lies in the fact that it is the active participation of individuals in their communities and society as a whole. This involves becoming knowledgeable about societal issues, expressing one’s opinions, and taking action to address those issues.
This month’s theme is civic engagement. How has participating in SUSI transformed the way you view civic engagement in your community and around the world?
The SUSI program gave me a different perspective in the sense that it provided me with a transformative experience that broadened my perspective in numerous ways.
To begin with, interacting with individuals from the USA and different countries in Africa exposed me to a wide range of perspectives on social, economic, and political issues. Engaging in meaningful discussions and collaborating on projects with people from diverse backgrounds challenged my preconceived notions and forced me to critically evaluate my own beliefs.
Finally, witnessing firsthand the realities faced by communities in different parts of the world fostered empathy and compassion within me. Through volunteering and working on community development initiatives in Tennessee, I gained insight into the unique struggles and triumphs of individuals in diverse environments. This experience enabled me to appreciate the diversity of human experiences and the importance of advocating for social justice on a global scale.
Since returning from the SUSI program, how have you been civically engaged in your community? How have the skills you learned during your SUSI program impacted these activities?
The topics I learned during my SUSI program are project building and management, group work, volunteerism, grassroots activism, the American political system compared to the African political system, movements that led to the end of racism, the Non-violent Committee, and African American slavery. It was through the project skills that I won and led three project grants since my participation. The names of the project are Save Beira (in 2020 and 2021) – A climate change initiative led by the youth and aiming at creating awareness in vulnerable communities. This project is ongoing and has helped over 400 people since its initiation through workshops, trainings, and roundtable debates with local entities on ways to mitigate the effects of climate change that have been devastating the city of Beira. All of this impact was made possible because of the SUSI program, which I cannot thank enough.
In the same year, I launched and led a SUSI Ambassador initiative named YUTRA (Youth for Transparency) – an awareness campaign aimed at teaching and sharing best practices to university students to avoid corruption-related practices, given the fact the country encountered matters related to corruption. The YOUTRA aimed to educate university students about the dangers of engaging in corrupt activities and promote transparency in their actions. Through various awareness programs, workshops, and interactive sessions, the campaign emphasized the importance of integrity and ethical behavior among the youth. As a result of the campaign, there was a noticeable shift in the mindset of university students regarding corruption. Many students became more aware of the consequences of engaging in corrupt practices, where many were involved in bribing teachers, sexual assault, and many more. The initiative taught about the negative impact corruption can have on society. They developed a stronger sense of responsibility toward promoting transparency and actively discouraged corrupt behavior among their peers.
Lastly, Language for All (in 2022) – an education initiative funded by the local U.S. Embassy via MUSAA (Mozambique United States Alumni Association). This project was conceived while participating in the SUSI program. The project aimed to offer free English classes to students with disabilities and impacted 75 students in the whole city of Beira.
Based on what you learned throughout the SUSI program, what advice would you give the next generation about being active in civic engagement?
To the future generation of civic engagement leaders, here are some advice to guide them in their endeavors.
The key element I advise the future civic engagement generation is that they need passion and purpose to drive change. These two are indeed vital elements for young people who want to be socially engaged and drive change in their communities. This is because, with passion, young people are more capable to explore causes and issues they deeply care about, as young people should reflect on their interests and identify the areas where they feel most passionate. And having a purpose, there we often see arise from a strong alignment with personal values. When young people have a clear understanding of their values, and what matters to them, they can easily identify causes, issues, or initiatives that resonate with those values. This, in turn, motivates them to get involved and take action in their communities.
It is always noticed that when young people drive themselves with a sense of purpose, they are more likely to seek out communities, organizations, or groups working towards the same causes. These connections provide a support network, foster collaboration, and provide opportunities for joint social engagement. By combining their passion with purposeful action, young people can become catalysts for change in their communities. The key is to channel their energy, commitment, and knowledge toward making a positive and sustainable impact in the areas they care about most.