Reflections on the Impact of the International Visitor Leadership Program - Jena Melancon

September 17, 2012

We had a group of nine Saudi Arabian leaders come into town. These were adult leaders of the Saudi Arabian Boy Scout Association.

They were in the United States to look at scouting and other youth development programs.

While they were with us, we introduced them to a Boy Scout group that was working on its Eagle required Citizenship in the World merit badge.

So, we had a morning when these leaders came in with their uniforms and neckerchiefs and pins for the boys as little rewards.

The boys were able to interview them and they played games and the Saudi leaders talked about their own experiences with scouting.

At the end of the session, the Saudi delegation said, "Well, why don't we divide up into teams and let's have a speech contest. And we'll have three teams and each team will tell us a little bit about what they learned this morning."

The boys all said wonderful things, they all had learned a lot. But what stuck with me was when one young man got up and he said, "You know, what I really learned was that my ideas about Saudi Arabians - my ideas were wrong."

After this, later in the day, one of my delegates said to me, "You know, what I learned was that my. ideas about Americans were wrong too."

Months later, the parents of these scouts still were talking about the experience. I had one father, who was quite well traveled, admit to me that, before the morning, he was nervous.
He didn't know how the boys would react, he really didn't know what to expect from it. But it was an eye-opening experience and he was very grateful that the children had had that opportunity to meet the delegates.

Another mother told me that her young son has since looked beyond - has started to look beyond his neighborhood and he's looking in the newspaper for bits of international news.
It all stemmed from that morning with the Saudis. For me, this program is a wonderful opportunity, obviously, to be involved or make a difference internationally, but I really look at it as a way to make some changes locally.