Community, Library & Youth Engagement Centers and Programs: A Project for the Near East and North Africa

Outside of schools, libraries and youth centers stand as formative spaces for today's young people, anchoring communities as destinations for creativity, learning, and engagement. From helping with homework, to providing outlets for arts, sports and music, they bring together youth of every background, and are critical for the health of the diverse communities they serve. To advance the development of such spaces in the Near East and North Africa (NEA), 13 library administrators, youth leaders, and community engagement specialists participated in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) to connect with colleagues across America who hold a shared passion for supporting young people to thrive. By partaking in this 3-week program, visitors affirmed their belief in the power of exchanging strategies and best practices to advance the success of today's youth, both in the United States and in their home countries.

IVLP visitors stopped at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in downtown Washington, DC.
An IVLP visitor tries out a "book bike" which allows the library to go mobile.

Time in Washington, DC introduced visitors to many of the most dynamic spaces for youth in the nation's capital. The Smithsonian National Museum of American History's Draper Spark!Labs showcased the value of creating dedicated spaces for children to explore their capacity for invention through interactive activities and programs. A workshop with Life Pieces to Masterpieces also impressed the group with visitors noting how the non-profit's collaborative relationship with the elementary school within which its housed allowed for closer coordination between parents and educators.

In Salt Lake City, Utah, meetings focused on civic engagement and volunteerism were particularly impactful. Specifically of note was a youth government program with the Utah state legislature that served as a practical example to encourage young people to get involved in government. A stop in New Orleans, Louisiana was also a highlight for visitors, who found The Best Buy Teen Tech Center at the New Orleans Public Library to be an incredible example the public-private partnerships making innovative technology accessible to youth. Concluding their program in Indianapolis, Indiana, visitors connected with organizations that delved into specific details regarding their summer camps, school programs and financing mechanisms.




Key Takeaways

According to participants, engaging with American communities and youth leaders across the country yielded new perspectives and ideas about how to further develop their own work in their home countries. Visitors expressed intentions to apply the following ideas in their work:

  • Applying social emotional learning skills in interactions with local police and youth to advance CVE prevention.
  • Leveraging partnerships with private companies to sponsor technology for libraries and youth spaces.
  • Converting museums to not just be places of attraction, but interactive learning.
Visitor Impressions

One visitor expressed that throughout the United States, "we saw collaboration, we feel like we are all for one and one for all, [connected in] mutual support. I admired the programs that emphasized youth to live their voices.”

When reflecting on the great amount of work to be done to support youth, another reflected that "any government in the world cannot do everything or solve all problems, so giving organizations and citizens empowerment to be agents of change can improve the situation.”

A visitor concluded that, "this experience really opened our eyes [to] new horizons. The program is ending but for me it’s a new beginning and a starting point. I will take from it what I saw, ingenuity, empowerment, [and] volunteerism."


A special thanks to the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and Meridian's implementing partners, the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy, Global New Orleans, the International Center, and WorldChicago for their support in creating this important exchange.

Project summary

Community, Library & Youth Engagement Centers and Programs: A Project for the Near East and North Africa
Number of Visitors: 13
Regions: Near East and North Africa
Countries: Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia
Impact Areas: Youth Leadership Development, Education
Program Areas: Global Leadership