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.
Lilebo Faith Thipe of Botswana participated in the 2022 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”?
Civic engagement refers to the active participation of individuals in their communities and society as a whole. It involves being informed about and involved in the social, political, and economic issues that affect one’s community and taking action to contribute to the common good.
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?
Through SUSI, I realized that civic engagement is not limited to geographical boundaries; it is a shared responsibility that transcends borders. I am now motivated to forge connections with like-minded individuals and organizations on an international scale, fostering collaborations that can lead to collective action and create a more just and equitable world.
Participating in SUSI has been a transformative experience, shaping my understanding of civic engagement and its potential for positive change. The program has broadened my perspective, equipped me with practical skills, and ignited a passion within to make a difference in my community and beyond. I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of SUSI and excited to apply my newfound knowledge and inspiration to drive meaningful civic engagement initiatives in the future.
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?
Returning from the SUSI program, I implemented a project called Sexual Health Geeks. This project gives adolescents and young people aged 15-25 from all walks of life a platform to access Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) knowledge, information, and services to put them in a position to ask questions they have about SRHR. The idea of the project is to empower young people to own up to their voices, to know their SRHR, to dismantle and live beyond the stereotyping around SRHR, and to build a community that sees young people accessing SRHR as normal and knowledgeable, with an endless amount of health awareness. The events of the project constituted talks on different sexual reproductive health rights and stalls from different youth-friendly centers that offer sexual reproductive services. At the stalls, the youth-friendly centers hosted small group sessions to allow young people to talk about sexual health issues openly, including role plays on how adolescents and young people can ask the right questions to health service providers. The project was a success impacting 100 lives with comprehensive sexual education and initiating referrals for accessing contraceptives.
Moreover, I have actively pursued civic engagement initiatives in my community, and the skills and insights gained from the SUSI program have played a vital role in shaping my civic engagement activities upon returning to my community. By focusing on SRHR education for adolescents and young people, as well as environmental conservation through tree planting projects, I contributed to the well-being of my community. The program’s emphasis on intercultural communication, project management, leadership, and collaboration has equipped me with the tools necessary to effectively engage with diverse audiences, coordinate initiatives, and forge valuable partnerships. I am grateful for the transformative experience of SUSI, which continues to inform and inspire my civic engagement endeavors.
Based on what you learned throughout the SUSI program, what advice would you give the next generation about being active in civic engagement?
In the SUSI program, I gained valuable insights into civic engagement. Here’s my advice for the next generation: Find Your Passion and identify the causes and issues that resonate with you personally. Discover your passion and the areas where you believe you can make the most significant impact. Engaging in civic activities that align with your values and interests will fuel your motivation and sustain your commitment over the long term. Moreover, educate your passion. Take the time to educate yourself about the social, political, and environmental issues that affect your community and the world. Stay informed through reliable sources, engage in critical thinking, and seek out diverse perspectives. Knowledge is a powerful tool for understanding the complexities of issues and formulating informed opinions.