The SAWIP 2016 Team made their way to the White House on Friday, 24 June 2016. The first point of interest on the tour was an opportunity to see the West Wing – the location of the office of the President of the United States. The team participated in a dialogue held in a room previously used for receiving diplomatic missions. This is also the room where the Japanese Delegation was expelled from the United States following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that drew the US into World War 2. The team was briefed by two officials from the White House Office of Public Engagement, which aims to “create and coordinate opportunities for direct dialogue between the government and the public, while bringing new voices to the table and ensuring that everyone can participate and inform the work of the President.”
The representatives from the Office of Public Engagement were Kyle Lierman, Associate Director of Public Engagement, responsible for youth engagement and Zaid Hassan, Assistant Director of the White House Business Council. They shared their journey to their current roles and the work they do, specifically focusing on their role of liaising with the American youth and addressing the challenges they face.
The team had the opportunity to ask questions that drew parallels between the various challenges faced by young people in the United States and South Africa, such as student debt and the prevalent rape culture across campuses. The two officials shared insights around various programs and solutions their department has been involved in implementing that relate to complex challenges. These include “My Brother’s Keeper,” a mentorship program for young men of colour and the “It’s On US” sexual assault prevention campaign.
The team left the White House equipped with knowledge and new perspectives, leaving them better equipped to make a positive impact in South Africa.