#YSEALI Fellows Gear up for Sixth Town Hall with President Obama

It’s 5:45am in Luang Prabang, Laos, and I am looking out over the cloud-shrouded hills, listening to the sounds of roosters and mopeds echo across the lush green valley of this UNESCO World Heritage-designated town on the Mekong River. 

The quiet is deceiving, however. Tomorrow marks the arrival of nearly 200 Southeast Asian YSEALI (Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative) Fellows, descending on Laos from the other nine ASEAN countries, for a 3-day conference focused on sustainability and the development gap between the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  On Wednesday, President Obama will make his way here, too, and meet with the YSEALI fellows in a town hall event.

A view of Luang Prabang, Laos. [State Department photo]

The YSEALI fellows are up-and-coming leaders from the ASEAN region, selected from thousands of applicants to take part in exchanges to the U.S. this spring.  They are leaders of non-governmental organizations, environmental activists, local government officials, civil rights champions, small business owners, and disability rights advocates. Earlier this year, they spent five weeks in the United States on eight different academic and professional fellowship projects through YSEALI, working in U.S. city halls and non-profit organizations, immersed in university and community life across the United States.  

From Sacramento to Phoenix, from Chicago to Charlottesville, Americans hosted the YSEALI Fellows in their workplaces and in their homes. Many of these hosts traveled to Southeast Asia this summer to follow-up with the YSEALI fellows in their communities once they returned home. For example, Marie Watts, who works in the city government of Cedar Hill, Texas, traveled to Cambodia in August to meet with Cambodian YSEALI Fellows Ret Thaung, who visited Cedar Hill earlier this year. She also met with Markara Nuon (hosted in Austin) and Sam Sothy Roth (hosted in Dubuque). While in Cambodia, Watts delivered a guest lecture on sustainability practices to students at the School of Biodiversity and School of Public Policy at the Royal University at Phnom Penh. Meanwhile, Jean Lawson, the Chief Performance Officer for the City Government in Kansas City, made her way to Indonesia, to reconnect with YSEALI Fellows Andro Prasetyo and Peter Rasyid, who she hosted in her city this spring. While in Indonesia, Lawson and the fellows explored ways to streamline access to the city of Manggarai’s services, while Lawson shared Kansas City’s experience in urban planning.

Young leaders from Southeast Asia pose for a photo. [State Department photo]

Leading up to this year’s YSEALI Summit, Melissa Low, YSEALI fellow from the Energy Studies Institute of the National University of Singapore, noted the key ways this initiative supports cross-cultural exchange but is also linking rural and urban realties to impact real social change.  She shared, “the United States and ASEAN member nations are working together to consider ways of meeting the needs of rural populations while closing this development gap. The 2016 YSEALI Summit will intentionally be held outside a major metropolitan area to directly expose participants to the benefits and challenges of rural life as they think through this development challenge.” 

As I sit here this morning listening to the sounds of Luang Prabang coming to life, I am eager to reconnect with the YSEALI Fellows and to learn more about their continued work on sustainability and development, while exploring this beautiful part of Southeast Asia with them at the same time.

For those of you who cannot make it to Luang Prabang to join President Obama and YSEALI fellows for their Town Hall on September 7, 2016, tune in to watch online at https://www.whitehouse.gov/live.

About the Author: Adam Meier serves in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ Office of Citizen Exchanges at the U.S. Department of State.



marjorie h.
New York, USA
September 7, 2016
This was an extremely informative article. It's good to hear of positive things that the people in the u.s. get involved with.
Watch as President Obama speaks with YSEALI fellows at a Town Hall meeting at 2:30 PM ICT (7:30 AM UTC) on September 7, 2016 at https://www.whitehouse.gov/live.
Posted by Adam Meier
September 6, 2016


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