Yousuf Al-Rawi, a fifth year medical student at the University of Baghdad and an alumnus of the 2013 Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP) , is already putting the skills he developed into practice by working with his colleagues to make a difference in his home country.
In his early years of undergraduate study, Al-Rawi learned of IYLEP through his university and was drawn to apply by the chance to experience American culture firsthand while being exposed to new ideas that could be applied in Iraq. Upon becoming a finalist and participating in IYLEP 2013, he took full advantage of this opportunity. Al-Rawi shared information about Iraqi culture with Americans whose perceptions had been clouded by media coverage of the Iraq War, while also taking the time to build relationships with a diverse group of Iraqis that composed his cohort, many of whom came from different cultural backgrounds.
The most important aspect of IYLEP, said Al-Rawi, is that “it makes you passionate about your interests and inspires you to become a leader in your community and volunteer work.” The impact of this experience is clear throughout his life as, among his numerous volunteer activities, he has become Secretary General of the Iraqi Chapter of the International Federation of Medical Students’ Association (IFMSA) and in 2015 he founded an instructional debate club called Debate4Peace. Al-Rawi explains that Debate4Peace serves not only as a tool “enabling Iraqi youth to express themselves regarding topics that matter to them in Iraqi communities” but also aims “to oppose the culture of violence by promoting a peaceful exchange of ideas through open debates.”
Al-Rawi’s passion for promoting the peaceful exchange of ideas began in 2014 when he and his colleagues participated in a debate competition in Tunisia. Despite having very little formal knowledge about debating techniques, the group performed excellently, inspiring Al-Rawi to continue to pursue debating through his participation in the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) Regional Youth Forum and later replicate the idea in his home country. He says while Iraq has many perspectives, they are often ignored or threatened by violence rather than being embraced through debate and the exchange of ideas. Al-Rawi believes that debate is the key to developing a culture of peace in Iraq, enabling and promoting the peaceful exchange of ideas and elevating rationality and understanding over emotions and hatred.
Check out the Debate4Peace Facebook page.