Colombian Sports Visitors: On the Fast Track to Empowering Girls

Despite the early hour, 12 female athletes and two coaches, bright-eyed and dressed in matching blue and yellow track suits, visited us at the Department of State last week. They were eager to listen, ask questions, and share their experiences as teenage female athletes and Afro-Colombian students. Although the athletes had just met and came from three different cities, they already acted like teammates. Sports have a unique way of bringing people together.

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs developed this fast-paced program as part of our Empowering Women and Girls through Sports Initiative, to inspire and empower more women and girls to become involved in all aspects of sports. During their exchange, the track and field athletes ran side by side with their American counterparts in Washington, D.C., at Woodrow Wilson High School, and then traveled to Portland, Oregon, to work with other female athletes at the 2013 NCAA Track and Field National Championships. MORE

The Power of English Learning

Throughout my travels as an Under Secretary, I have been constantly reminded of the magnetism of English language learning.

From Ethiopia to Istanbul, from Lahore to Tokyo, the young people I have met who study English have been eager to demonstrate their skills. High school students in Ukraine sang songs to me in English. College students in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, asked me to read their English essays.  In the Dominican Republic, young people proudly showed their handiness at playing “Trace Effects,” our online English-learning videogame. And in these upturned faces, I also saw growing self-belief and excitement about new possibilities ahead. MORE

New Agreement Underwrites Exhibition of Documentaries at U.S. Embassies Abroad

American movies have always been a bright and flickering window into our nation’s history — a great narrative tool to tell the American story to foreign audiences. What better way could there be to support our public diplomacy than by screening documentaries about our culture and history at more than 500 American Spaces around the world?

Through the “America’s Media Makers” grant program, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), talented American film-makers have told the stories of the American Dust Bowl, Broadway musicals, American jazz, and the Freedom Riders who challenged segregation in the early 1960s, and also created portraits of revered American figures, including Benjamin Franklin, Eleanor Roosevelt, and President Lyndon Johnson. MORE

Inclusive Public School Offers American English Language Training in Ukraine

Access Micro-Scholarship students at the Obolon Center in Kyiv, Ukraine expressed gratitude to Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine for the opportunity to study English through U.S. Department of State programming, April 11, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

About the Author: Tara D. Sonenshine serves as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

In a public school in Ukraine, the State Department’s longtime efforts to support the human rights, dignity, and inclusion of all people was in clear evidence.

Located in the Kyiv district of Obolon, School #168 is the only school in the area where physically disabled children are integrated into regular classrooms. With help from State Department funding, the school offers intensive English language training, and integrates American culture and civic engagement as part of its enhancement activities.

At my recent visit there, students — with and without disabilities — greeted me in traditional Ukrainian costume. They presented decorated Ukrainian bread, and sang a local welcoming song. They ushered me through… more »

A Courageous Cuban Blogger

Yoani Sanchez, winner of the 2011 Secretary’s International Women of Courage award, meets with Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine and Acting Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Sharon Wiener at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on March 20, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

About the Author: Tara D. Sonenshine serves as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

Almost every day, I have the opportunity to meet women who refuse to let restrictive environments hinder their determination to demand the same rights, opportunities, and futures as any person.

This week, one of those women was Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, one of many voices across the global blogosphere advocating freedom of expression, human rights, and dignity for all citizens. Through her blog “ Generacion Y (Generation Y) ” Ms. Sanchez regularly provides her followers with deep and penetrating insights about life in her country.

Generacion Y currently receives 12 million hits a month and is translated into 21 languages. Her Twitter feed has more than 450,000 followers. Ms. Sanchez always maintains a respectful tone because — in her words — she… more »

Engaging the Public in the Fight Against Wildlife Trafficking

An Olive Ridley turtle enters the sea at the Bay of Bengal at the Rushikulya river mouth beach in Ganjam district, India, March 1, 2012. [AP File Photo]

About the Author: Tara D. Sonenshine serves as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

March has been a good month for wildlife. 

At its annual meeting, held in Bangkok, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) voted to place new trade limits on sharks, mantas, and turtles for the first time in nearly a decade. 

This is an important step in countering a fishing trade that claims the lives of 100 million sharks a year. There is also widespread fishing of mantas, in response to strong demand in Asia — where many believe mantas’ gill plates have invigorating medicinal qualities. Turtles have existed for 300 million years but are now in serious trouble around the world as they are frequently used as food and in traditional medicines in Asia, and their use in the pet trade… more »

Supporting Culture and Better Futures in Afghanistan

In this Feb. 6, 2013, photo, Afghan actor Fawad Mohammadi 14, rides a horse on Nader Khan's hill at the one of the areas where a part of the Afghani Oscar Nominee film titled Buzkashi Boys, shot in Kabul, Afghanistan. [AP File Photo]

About the Author: Tara Sonenshine serves as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

This past month I had the opportunity to meet two incredible groups of young artists from Afghanistan — and to see firsthand evidence of how our public diplomacy efforts for young people in that country are bearing fruit. It was also a chance to underscore our commitment to support the strengthening and preservation of national cultures around the world.

The first artists were students of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM), who began a State Department-funded tour in the United States with a concert of traditional Afghan music. I had the pleasure of introducing them, and we were joined by Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who shared his own love for music with the audience. Over the course of their… more »

A Diverse and Socially Inclusive America Needs to Share Its Story

Wheelchair athlete, left, races along side able-bodied high school runners, April 19, 2006 in Rockville, Md. [AP File Photo]

About the Author: Tara D. Sonenshine serves as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

Diversity is our strength, and everyone, including persons with disabilities, has important contributions to make.

That was one of the overarching messages at the 10th Special Olympics 2013 World Winter Games in South Korea this month, where athletes Tae Hemsath and Henry Meece — born in South Korea with developmental disabilities — returned to their birth country as Special Olympics athletes. Tae competed as a snowshoe racer, Henry as a snowboarder.

That same message resonated today throughout a public forum, where participants at Gallaudet University came to learn about opportunities in international exchange for persons with disabilities, and for members of the deaf community.

The audience was moved by the words and experiences of speakers, including U.S. Representative Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a former Army helicopter pilot who lost…more »

Burma: Hoops for Change

Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara D. Sonenshine and Ambassador Than Swe pose for a photograph with Burmese youth participating in a SportsUnited exchange program at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., January 8, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

About the Author: Tara Sonenshine serves as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

They came off the bus in front of the Verizon Center in their white SportsUnited T-shirts. They were 12 Burmese basketball players — six girls, six boys and two coaches — participating in a sports exchange program that started last summer in Rangoon. Their excitement grew as they sat courtside to watch a real professional basketball game — and see the pro’s warming up beforehand. It grew even more when Washington Wizards Bradley Beal and Kevin Seraphin came over to greet them and pose for photographs.

Then they experienced the unique American pastime of a classic NBA basketball game — complete with cheerleaders, acrobats, chants, crowd applause, and… more »

Technology Advances U.S. Diplomacy Goals

In this photo taken, Nov. 8, 2011, a woman poses with her Blackberry mobile phone in Johannesburg. The woman says she cherishes her phone as a link to family and friends, and also sees it as a radio, a library, a mini cinema, a bank teller, and more. [AP File Photo]

About the Author: Tara Sonenshine serves as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

When we apply technology at its best to public service at its most critical, we can make powerful differences in the lives and well-being of people.

Advances in communications and information technology are allowing us to do just that, whether we are using crowd-sourcing or Twitter, or reaching people via mobile phones or Skype. We are assisting survivors in the wake of natural disasters. We are monitoring elections to ensure they are free, safe and fair. We are reaching more people in non-permissive environments. Technology has become not only our virtual eyes and ears, but our helping hands, in a variety of ways.

Take Ushahidi (“witness” in Swahili), a crowd-sourcing platform developed by Kenyan citizens in 2008 that uses technology to collect, verify, and map information from citizens on a variety of issues. That can include incidents of violence,… more »