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NIU’s Philippine Youth Leadership Program will be the subject of a TV documentary to be aired on prime time in the Philippines.
NIU’s Philippine Youth Leadership Program will be the subject of a TV documentary
to be aired on prime time
in the Philippines.

Susan Russell
Susan Russell

Lina Ong
Lina Ong



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News Release

Contact: Tom Parisi, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-3635

March 24, 2009

Foreign news crew will train lens
on NIU project promoting peace in Philippines

DeKalb, Ill. — A video news crew from the Philippines will visit campus in early April to create a documentary on NIU's successful Philippine Youth Leadership Program.

For the past six years, Anthropology Professor Susan Russell and Lina Ong, director of the International Training Office, have hosted young visitors from the Philippines for month-long institutes aimed at bringing peace to a conflict-torn region of the island nation.

“We’re hoping the documentary will create some international visibility for NIU’s global outreach,” Ong said. “We think this is a model program for developing young leaders with a sense of civic responsibility and commitment to community development.”

The Youth Leadership Program is geared for students from Mindanao, the largest and least developed island in the southern Philippines. Mindanao has been frequent site of civil unrest. Muslims, Christians and tribal peoples populate the island, and several dozen groups have their own cultures and languages.

At NIU, students from these different cultural backgrounds have come together to learn leadership skills, peace-building methods and ways to strengthen inter-ethnic and inter-faith dialogue. Past participants have gone on to develop social-improvement projects in their homeland communities, including environmental cleanups, an effort to promote “peace journalism” and drives to collect books and school supplies for poor students.

The U.S. Department of State has provided $1.2 million in funding for the Philippine Youth Leadership Program and is supporting the foreign journalists’ visit to NIU as well.

“The program has been very well received,” Russell says. “I think the State Department is interested in enlightening Filipinos about its peace-building role and demonstrating to them that Muslim, Christian and indigenous youth can get along just fine.”

This year’s program will begin on April 4, when NIU will welcome 20 high school-age students and three adults from the Philippines. During their visit, they will examine the important role of volunteerism in civil society and learn about American institutions that promote tolerance and religious diversity.

The students will participate in classes, lectures, workshops and seminars, spend time volunteering at a local homeless shelter and retirement center, and meet with local government and community leaders. They also will take cultural field trips to Chicago and Indiana.

“This time around we’re putting more emphasis on leadership development,” Russell says. “We want the students to become advocates for social change, develop partnerships with other groups in their communities and leverage resources from different sources to fund their projects. So the program works to teach them about organizing and volunteerism.”

Oftentimes, the Filipino students’ first interaction with people from outside their own cultural groups is during the NIU program. On-air personality Abner Mercado, producer Chiara Zambrano and cameraman Nolie Ruby, all from the ABS-CBN Filipino network, will follow students on their journey. The crew also intends to interview past program participants who have started up projects in their homeland and NIU professors involved in the training.

The resulting documentary “will be a prime-time national broadcast,” said Kathleen Boswell, a producer with the U.S. Department of State who also is coming to NIU.

In addition to Russell and Ong, a number of NIU faculty members are contributing to the Philippine Youth Leadership Program. They include Katharine Wiegele (Anthropology), LaVerne Gyant (Center for Black Studies), Todd Yeary (Center for Black Studies), Betty LaFrance (Communication), Wei Zheng (Counseling, Adult and Higher Education) and Laurel Jeris (Counseling, Adult and Higher Education).

Six graduate students also are providing critical assistance in organizing and implementing the program: Rey Ty, Nalika Diyadawa, Amando Boncales, Maimouna Konate, Chris Birks and Rita Reynolds.

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