This blog is for those wanting to keep up to date on all the work that the Vermont Council on World Affairs is doing around the world.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Enhancing Provincial Council's Oversight and Advisory Capacity: A Project for Afghanistan

This week the Vermont Council on World Affairs and the International Visitor leadership Program hosted a group traveling all the way from Afghanistan. The project was for Enhancing Provincial Council's Oversight and Advisory Capacity by learning about various government systems in the United States and Vermont. We were fortunate enough to have five politicians from five of the 31 different Afghanistan provinces  to learn about the many diverse political systems that we have here in Vermont. With us we had Mr. Amruden Wali of the Kunduz Province, Mr. Mohammad Noor Rahmani of the Sar-e Pul Province, Mr. Firozuddin Aimaq of the Baghlan Province, Mr. Karim Atal of the Helmand Province, and Mr. Sayed Azim Kabarzany of the Heart Province, all accompanied by their Dari language interpretors Noor Durrani and Mohammad Azis. The group spent Monday and Tuesday traveling around Vermont and Burlington meeting with various organizations to discuss political and government structures with their counterparts.

On Monday morning we met with Shelburne Town Manager Joe Colangelo to discuss town governments. What is unique about Colangelo's role as Town Manager is that he functions very much like a town Mayor. The difference between a Mayor and a manager is that a Mayor is elected for his position, whereas the manager is hired for his job and he has no set term. What we learned from Colangelo is that different towns in Vermont and all around the nation have extremely varied government systems, which makes it difficult to collaborate directly with other towns. Mr. Mohammad Noor Rahmani called Colangelo "young and energetic," and we learned a lot about Shelburne's politics in comparison to surrounding Vermont towns.

During the afternoon on Monday we were fortunate enough to have the time to get to explore the Vermont State House in Montpelier. The group loved seeing all the historic pieces displayed throughout the house, as well as the Senate and the House meeting rooms. While we were there, we had the pleasure of meeting Representative Jill Krowinski, House Majority Leader who talked a little bit about the work that the Vermont State Representatives take part in.
After we left the State House, we went on over to meet with the Vermont League of Cities in Towns in Montpelier. There we met with the executive director of the program, Maura Carroll, who explained the importance of having representation of all the towns in the state of Vermont. The League provides various types of insurance around the state, and the organization offers a Municipal Assistance Center for consultation on a wide range of municipal issues for citizens around the state.

On Tuesday, we spent the day in Burlington City Hall meeting with various members of the Burlington government system. First we met with members of the Burlington City Council. Out of a total of 12 councilors, we had the opportunity to meet with four councilors. Joan Shannon discussed the importance of having both a strong Mayor and a strong City Council Government, and that neither can do without the other. All councilors are part time, and they work with the Mayor to discuss the needs of the city. They deal with everything from passing resolutions, city ordinances and charter changes, to the construction of the town center, to things as specific as fixing pot holes in the roads.

Next we got to meet with Bob Rustin, the Burlington City Treasurer. Rustin has the immense responsibility of overseeing all of the city's finances. He creates monthly reviews for the city council, oversees all city taxes, and prepares monthly budgets that get reviewed by the council. He also organizes all city elections. Last March there was the town meeting election, and Rustin was responsible for arranging ballots, hiring and scheduling election workers, and organizing and reporting the results. In addition, Rustin is required to keep track of all documents, licenses and certificates such as land records, birth records, marriages, etc. The meeting provided an immense amount of information to our Afghan visitors about the many different responsibilities that our local leaders are in charge of, and provided insight to various methods of organizing city works.

Lastly, the group met with members of Burlington's Neighborhood Planning Assembly. Created 35 years ago, the goal of the assembly was to bring the different areas of Burlington together to discuss the different issues as well as keep an open line of communication. Burlington is divided into eight different wards, or neighborhoods, and each month different neighborhoods get together for a meeting to discuss whatever issues have developed and proposing possible solutions. Providing a public dialogue is essential because it gives an opportunity for members of the community to voice any of their concerns and be involved with the city's planning. Each neighborhood in Burlington has its own unique issues, and having the monthly meetings with the National Planning Assembly offers a space for the community to get involved.

Throughout the various meetings, our group of Afghan Politicians were able to get a sense of government in Vermont in a neighborhood scale, a town and city scale, a state scale as well as a national scale. The Vermont Council on World Affairs would like to thank the members of the Afghanistan provincial councils, their incredible translators, and the many #802Diplomats we met along the way.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Recap: Cuba Trip 2017

I stepped off the plane, on a beautiful warm day, and the realization suddenly hit me. I had just set foot in the country that I haven't been allowed to visit my entire life. Here as part of the Vermont Council on World Affairs' 2nd Annual Cuba trip, I wasn't sure what to expect, but images of Fidel, '55 Chevies, cigars, and Hemingway ran through my mind.

Tom Clavelle under the Cuban flag

For 8 sun-filled days, a congenial group of 20 curious Vermonters immersed ourselves in the culture of the Caribbean's largest island. Our travels began with a relaxing morning on the beautiful beaches and aqua blue waters of Veradero. Then off to Havana, Cuba's largest city and capital, where we spent the next 3 days exploring its bustling streets, visiting a local elementary school, attending the traditional Canon Firing Ceremony, and learning about the country's intriguing history. Who had ever heard of Jose Marti before? Turns out he's the greatest Cuban martyr/hero, from the late 1800s, stirring his countrymen to revolt against the Spanish. Evenings were spent in some great local eateries, followed by a relaxing time on the outside porch of the President Hotel, listening to the upbeat Cuban music of local bands. And no trip to Cuba would be complete without a visit to Hemingway's home, Finca Vigia.

Cuba Trip group

Next morning, after an interesting tour of a cigar factory, we headed south for a few days in the coastal city of Trinidad, best known for its well-preserved Cuban culture. On the way from Trinidad to Santa Clara, located in the center of the country, we stopped by for a morning visit and lunch at the El Nicho waterfalls. It was one of the highlights of the trip, taking us deep into the beautiful Cuban mountain countryside. Santa Clara is the place where the Cuban Revolution took hold, and where revolutionary hero (and honorary Cuban) Che Guevera is memorialized. The concept of revolution is deeply engrained in the country's history, and while the presence and influence of Fidel Castro was everywhere, we were quite struck by the simplicity of his final resting grounds.

Historic street in Cuba

Looking out over the island as we flew back to Montreal, I wished I could have stayed a few days longer. The Cuban people were very welcoming and friendly, excited to see Americans coming to explore their great country. While it's often been referred to as the country that got "stuck in time", my sense is that it is destined for some big changes in the next 5-10 years. I guess one more reason to go back!      

Post and photos by Tom Clavelle, Cuba Trip 2017 participant

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Recap on the VCWA Ambassador Series: "U.S. and a Region in Conflict"

Panelists and moderator Peter Calvelle discuss U.S. and a region in conflict*
Last week’s VCWA Ambassador Series, The United States and a Region in Conflict: on Turkey, Syria, Iraq and the Kurds was a success by all means. Speakers on the panel included Ambassador Robert Ford, former U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, Kurdistan Regional Government Representative to the U.S., and Abdülhamit Bilici, journalist and former Editor-in-Chief of Turkey’s largest daily newspaper, currently living in exile in the U.S.

Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman*     
Ambassador Robert Ford*
The event was moderated by VCWA board member Peter Clavelle; the night’s discussion revolved around the protracted conflict in Syria and Iraq, U.S. foreign policy in the region, the potential of a Kurdish state, and the meaning of the rise of Turkish authoritarianism to the U.S., as well as to Turkey’s neighbors.

Peter Clavelle*
Abdülhamit Bilici*
With over 100 in attendance, it was no surprise that there were many rich questions for the speakers, some of which touched on Iraqi Kurdistan’s sentiments on the PKK in Turkey, predictions of how the current administration will address the war in Syria compared to the previous one, and tensions between Turkey and the U.S. in regards to U.S. support of the Kurds’ fight against ISIS.


The evening closed out with a reception where speakers and attendees had the opportunity to mingle over Turkish hors d’oeuvres, and ask any final burning questions of the experts. This panel presented a unique opportunity for Vermonters to get more than a soundbite on a topic that affects all of us in a greater capacity than we may realize.

A reception following the panel featured the opportunity to meet speakers and Turkish food!*

After the panel finished Thursday evening, it may have been the end of the excitement for Vermonters in attendance, but activities continued the following morning as the VCWA met once again with Ms. Rahman and Mr. Bilici at the Center for Media & Democracy to record two programs, featuring interviews with the speakers by Peter Calvelle. These interviews allowed a more in-depth discussion on each of the speakers’ respective backgrounds and more country-specific information. Be sure to keep an eye out on social media and your e-newsletters for these programs-- we’ll update with links as soon as they’re available!

VCWA Executive Director Patricia Preston (right), Abdülhamit Bilici, and I at the CCTV studio*

We sincerely hope that the programming provided expanded your knowledge and perspective on the topics discussed during the event and that you found value in attending because, well, this is what we do: the VCWA brings Vermont to the world and the world to Vermont by curating opportunities for Vermont community members such as yourselves to listen to, and engage in, civil discourse with leaders, experts, and influencers from all over the world in order to build a stronger, more globally aware community.


We thank Champlain College for providing an excellent space, the Center for Media & Democracy for covering the event and interviews, our speakers and moderator, the VCWA Board of Directors for sponsoring the event, and of course, all of the Vermonters who attended and who support our organization. We couldn’t have done it without you!

This post was written by Chelsea Beaulieu, VCWA Program Assistant

*All photos taken by Kathryn Ashley McNeish

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Recap: The Fusion Factor in Independent Arab Music with Diya Azzony

Last Tuesday, the Vermont Council on World Affairs welcomed #DiyaAzzony to Main Street Landing’s Black Box Theatre for a VCWA Speaker Series: The Fusion Factor in Independent Arab Music.

The evening began with a jazzy song called Waiting, that Diya wrote while waiting for his wife to get ready to go out one evening in Chicago. Diya, on electric guitar, was accompanied by his band mate Abdullah, on saxophone.

Diya and Abdullah play "Waiting"

After some questions from the audience, Diya and Abdullah were joined by Grup Anwar, a local band, headed by Anwar Diab Agha, who moved to Vermont from Syria in 2008. While Diya describes his music as fusion, Grup Anwar’s music falls into the more traditional Middle Eastern genre-- when the two groups combined, the audience was able to truly see the fusion of modern and traditional, and were impressed by the results. “The music was great. The integration of the different kinds of music was done really well. I could tell the jazz and Arabic music was fused and could pick out the two styles”, said an attendee, following the show.

Some topics discussed included the concept of “open tuning” used in Arab music, and the future of the arts in Saudi Arabia. It was an important learning opportunity for the Vermont community. “I thought what was really cool was how the audience, the visiting band, and the local band were able to not only translate linguistically for one another, but also to turn that linguistic translation into a reflection of the music they were playing”*, commented an audience member on not only the musical, but cultural fusion experienced that night.

Diya and Abdullah were excited to have been able to share their culture with Vermont, and during the reception, catered by the Skinny Pancake, Abdullah expressed his thoughts on the Fusion Factor, saying, “It’s like musical cultures, when we make a fusion between Arabic and jazz, it helps you learn more about the other culture – how they speak and what they do”. This night certainly helped Vermonters learn more about Saudi Arabian culture, and was a new and enlightening experience for many.

When asked what the Fusion Factor means to him, Diya remarked “It’s the musical sound I’ve been looking for and apparently I’ve found it in a lot of musical experiences. It keeps changing with the instruments, feelings, and people I encounter. It’s an ongoing feeling that keeps changing. It’s universal. It’s all about the harmony”. We certainly felt that harmony last week, and wish Diya well as he continues his musical journey.

Thanks to the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture and the Middle East Institute for making this event possible. With over 100 happy Vermonters in attendance, we must say, it was a great success!

If you made it to the event (or missed it) and want to see more of what the VCWA is up to, check out our next event this Thursday, which involves a discussion with experts on the conflict in Syria.

*Special thanks to Samantha Lewandowski for collecting quotes from the evening

This post was written by Chelsea Beaulieu, VCWA Program Assistant

Thursday, March 16, 2017

IVLP Delegates from the Kyrgyz Republic Visit Vermont for a Project on Education in the U.S.

IVLP delegates from the Kyrgyz Republic pose for a photo with The Sharon Academy faculty

Our most recent IVLP group got a real taste of Vermont weather during their visit this week. With spring only a few days away, those of us used to the weather around here were unsurprised-- even excited (fresh powder days on the mountain, anyone?) about the Nor’Easter that hit the East Coast on Tuesday. Luckily, even with the storm, the group of four professionals from the Kyrgyz Republic were still able to have a productive and informative visit, and participated in several meetings around the topic of “Education in the US”.

Michael Livingston, Head of School at The Sharon Academy, explains the foundations of learning

I had the opportunity to accompany the group to their first meeting on Monday, before the snow arrived, to The Sharon Academy (TSA), a rural independent school in (you guessed it) Sharon, Vermont. TSA is unique in that approximately 85% of students are publicly funded through rural “sending towns” that do not have their own high schools, and it strives to create an environment where students take an active role in their education: students in the high school develop and teach electives, and are invited to serve on the Board of Trustees; TSA strives to build the foundations of learning on trust and respect.

Andrew Lane, Director of TSA Middle School, discusses student responsibility

Because all of the IVLP delegates call rural areas in the Kyrgyz Republic home, they found the meeting with members of The Sharon Academy team, including several students, incredibly informative, and had many questions about developing a similar culture within their own schools.

IVLP delegates listen intently to TSA panel

Another great thing about TSA: they know how to have fun while developing important life skills! We caught TSA during their two-week interim session, where the high school produces a musical, and the middle school puts on a circus! Both projects encourage time-management, teamwork, discipline, creativity, and more-- we had a great time at TSA, and thank them for welcoming us into their community!

Elena Bell, State Department Interpreter, tries her hand at juggling during TSA circus prep

Following their time at The Sharon Academy, the visitors took a tour of the Vermont State House, where they had the opportunity to see the legislature in session--an exciting time of the year. They also paid a visit to the Vermont Rural Partnership in Cabot for a meeting with representatives to learn about this unique coalition of rural schools in Vermont.

Then came the snow…


Visits to schools outside of Burlington on Tuesday were, understandably, unable to take place. Fortunately, the group was still able to meet with Ellen Baker, Director of Teacher Education at UVM’s College of Education and Social Services to learn about the University’s Elementary Education Program. The VCWA is also incredibly grateful to our board member and former Deputy Secretary of Education, Mark Oettinger, for stepping up to a last minute request to meet with the group in the face of the inclement weather, ensuring that their stay in Vermont was as substantial as possible.

Visitors meet with Ellen Baker, Director of Teacher Education at UVM

The group, who was supposed to fly out to Utah yesterday, ended up having to extend their stay in Vermont an extra day They on their way as of this morning, and as a result, had some time to explore snowy Burlington! Thank you to all of the Vermonters who helped make this visit possible. We hope the group enjoyed their visit to Vermont as much as we enjoyed hosting them, and wish them safe travels on the rest of their journey through the U.S.!

This post was written by Chelsea Beaulieu, VCWA Program Assistant

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Recap of the VCWA Ambassador Series: "Israel and the Arab World" with Ambassador Haim Koren

On Monday, the Vermont Council on World Affairs was pleased to host, through its VCWA Ambassador Series, Ambassador Haim Koren, the former Israeli Ambassador to South Sudan (2012-2014) and Egypt (2014-2016). The event was held at Champlain College, in its Morgan Room in Aiken Hall, a historic and distinguished setting, quite befitting of the honorable guest as well as the tone of the evening.

Campus Events 022717-10.JPG

The event was free and open to the public, and ended up seeing a full house with a diverse range of guests, from members of the Champlain, UVM, and CCV faculty and student body, to some Vermont’s Jewish community and even residents and Vermonters hailing from South Sudan and Gaza.

There were a wide range of questions posited to the Ambassador, showing the high level of interest and engagement of attendees, which is exactly what the VCWA strives for. The event was undeniably a success in its facilitation of a safe space for civil discourse on world affairs, and we hope that Vermonters who attended found it to be a valuable educational experience.

Thank you to Champlain College for the generous donation of the event space, and thank you to Ambassador Koren for coming, and thank you to all who attended for making the event what it was! We hope to see you at our upcoming events as well!

By Chelsea Beaulieu, Program Assistant at the VCWA

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Networking: Connecting Locally, Working Globally

Jeff Halvorson of SSG Advisors Networking with Students
Who knew that among mountains and ski enthusiasts, that I would find a global professional network in Vermont.

The Vermont Council on World Affairs and Tetra Tech co-sponsored a networking event, Connecting Locally Working Globally at the University of Vermont last Thursday for students interested in global careers.  

The event featured global professionals representing Tetra Tech, VCWA, SSG Advisors, The Rainforest Alliance, Spiral International, and MyWebGrocer, all of which have offices in Vermont and work in countries all over the world.

Among the professionals was our VCWA director, Patricia Preston, who spoke about the importance of building a professional networks, regardless of the major you graduated with.

Patricia Preston of the VCWA and Lauren Dees-Erikson of Tetra
Tech ARD speaking with students 
The event commenced with a panel of the professionals speaking on behalf of their organizations, and providing advice to students looking to enter a global career. Many of the panelists stressed the importance of learning a second language, perfecting the resume, and knowing how to ask the right questions.

A memorable piece of advice came from Jeff Halvorson of SSG Advisors, who stressed that  "when you are looking for a job, learn how to be the best interviewer. Don't ask questions about the company that you can find on the website. Leave an informational interview having had an engaging conversation."
Jen Peterson of Tetra Tech ARD providing resume advice to students

After a brief panel Q&A, students had the opportunity to speed network and receive feedback on their resumes from the professionals and UVM career center advisors.

As both a UVM student and a VCWA intern, I found the networking event helpful and informative in guiding me in the next steps for a global career in international development. Each of the professionals were eager to help and speak about their experience in international relations, such as serving in the peace corps and teaching abroad.  

Leaving the event I was impressed how each professional's experience was varied and unique. As the daunting date of graduation approaches, it was assuring to hear that there is a silver lining to career uncertainty. Not every future job choice will be expected, and some may even seem unrelated- but all experiences weave a path to where you eventually want to go in a career. The first step is taking a risk and saying yes to opportunities.

The VCWA was pleased to see an interest in building global networks with not only students, but global professionals in Vermont.  A special thanks to all the participating companies and students who attended.  

Katie Hickey
VCWA Intern