EmpowHer Institute and Environmental Charter Middle School recently hosted a delegation of 20 (19 women and one man) community activists, educators and nonprofit managers from 19 foreign countries visiting the United States under the auspices of the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

Offered through the EmpowHer Institute, the Empowered Girls Program is delivered as a “girls only” curriculum in a 20 to 38-week program in middle schools. The curriculum is composed of career development/life skills, financial literacy and leadership development for low-income girls between the ages of 11-18 enrolled in schools in neighborhoods with greater than a 50 percent dropout rate.

The program provides the tools, resources, partnerships and support the girls’ need to gain the voice, ability and problem-solving capacity to realize their full potential. The EmpowHer Institute curriculum is taught by trained middle-school teachers and counselors who were jointly selected by the school and EmpowHer as best suited to help students achieve these outcomes.

While on campus, the delegation, which was in the U.S. to learn best practices and ideas from community leaders about programs that engage young women in positive directions, visited an EmpowHer class.

The most intriguing part of the class was when the delegates and the young EmpowHer students formed a large circle and engaged in an open question-and-answer session.

The delegates seemed most interested in how the program made these girls feel empowered.

One representative said that girls in her country weren’t as empowered as American girls and that she attended the class to find examples and projects that she could take home and pass along to the girls there.

The girls revealed numerous life skills that they have acquired since joining the program such as how to deal with bullying, lessons in self-esteem and leadership.

Many of the delegates as well as the youth in the program seemed to have misperceptions about the others’ way of life.

One visiting educator said the girls she teaches believed that American girls really do nothing more than hang out in Beverly Hills or the beach, they all wear pink, and shop all day.

Another representative said she was under the impression that American parents didn’t discipline their youth and that if they ever threatened punishment that the children could just call the police on their parents.

Both sides were interested and eager to put negative stereotypes about their respective countries to rest.

The delegation then met with representatives from the EmpowHer Institute and Environmental Charter Schools staff to learn more about their respective programs, only after being pushed back an additional 15 minutes because the two groups had so many questions for each other. It was proved to be an enlightening experience for everyone involved.

During the visit, students also presented information to the delegation about the middle school’s Green Ambassadors classes, in which they explore sustainable issues and solutions and then work in teams to share solutions with the community.

The event was hosted by Environmental Charter School founder Alison Suffet Diaz, middle school Principal Kami Cotler, EmpowHer founder Betty LaMarr and program manager Healther Sheldon. The delegation provided a laboratory of diversity for the class, with representatives hailing from Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Croatia, Gambia, Ghana, Jordan, Kenya, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Palestine, Poland, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russia, St. Kitts and Nevis and Yemen.

For more information on the EmpowHer Institute, visit the organization’s website at www.empowher.org.