Hubert Humphrey Fellowship Program: Fostering People-to-People Exchange
By C. Naseer Ahmad
Veteran journalist Jules Witcover narrates the journey from “irrelevance to power” – through the stories of US Vice-Presidents from John Adams to Joe Biden, in a recent book. The elected position of the US Vice-President was once described as “not worth a warm bucket of spit” by John Nance Garner who was elected the 32 nd Vice-President during 1933-1941 and served with President Franklin D Roosevelt.
Over time, US Vice-Presidents have played important roles is projecting US influence in creative ways. As Vice-President, Richard Nixon vigorously debated Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in Moscow in the “ Kitchen Debate ”, famously pointing finger at him. As US Vice-President visiting Pakistan in 1961, Lyndon Johnson befriended an illiterate camel driver Bashir Ahmad setting off a chain of people-to-people diplomatic events.
Then Vice-President Johnson greeted him at the airport upon his arrival in New York and was a bit apologetic for the chilly weather. Though unlettered, Bashir responded: “ It is not the cold; it is the warmth in the people’s heart that matters.”
Johnson’s successor as the 37th US Vice-President, Hubert Humphrey had a lot of warmth in his heart – earning him the nick-name “Happy Warrior” and who championed many worthy causes. He was the lead author of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and first introduced the initiative to create the Peace Corps.
“ Every time he spoke to a large or small audience he would bring people to their feet cheering with his brilliant oratory and his encyclopedic knowledge,” remembered Ann Howard-Tristani, Board Member, the Embassy Series and niece of Hubert H. Humphrey, at Boston University Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program Graduation Ceremony on May 1, 2015.
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter initiated the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship program to foster “ an exchange of knowledge and mutual understanding throughout the world.” This program serves as a lasting legacy of a caring man and a memorial to one of the finest US Presidents. The Humphrey program brings young and mid-career professionals from across the world for a year no-degree graduate level study, leadership development and professional collaboration with US counterparts.
A wealth of information is available on the website about this program which is sponsored by the US Department of State. Applicants can obtain information about eligibility , the fellowship provisions and components. Host Universities are listed on the website, which also provides encouraging information about why a university should become a host .
A luncheon at the National Press Club with Humphrey Fellows from Pakistan, Fernanda Katz Ellenberg, International Programs Coordinator, American University (AU) Washington College of Law and Anne Howard-Tristani provided an in-depth understanding about this important program and its far reaching impact. Each participating fellow visiting from Pakistan brought energy, enthusiasm as well as fresh perspective. They came across engaged and eager to take back a renewed spirit to serve in the communities from where they came. As a host university representative, Ms Ellenberg – originally from Brazil – had shared with empathy and provided ardent support to each fellowship participant.
Haidar Zaman a lawyer, graduating from the University of Peshawar, worked as a literacy coordinator for the National Commission for Human Development before coming to the US. Zaman was taking back both knowledge and experience from AU and the Humphrey Fellowship program.
Malala Yusufzai has earned a venerable place in history due to her courageous stand for education. However, among the enlightened exemplars of Pakistan is the mother of Qurrat-ul-Ain Rasheed, a Humphrey fellow at Syracuse University. “ My mother was an illiterate woman but she left no stone unturned to ensure that I go to school and make her proud,” recollects Qurrat. In a recent article “ Societal Fault Lines ,” which would earn her mother’s pride, Qurrat wrote “ a successful life is all about humanity – to be a human first and foremost.” After an year of “ extraordinary cultural and social experiences in United States and in this transitional phase I’m endeavoring making plans to contribute and bring difference in the lives of ordinary people of my country," she wrote in a recent email to the author.
Umar Mehmood, an engineer with background in renewable energy and water management is another dedicated Humphrey Fellow. “ Although, I got extension until December, 2015 but I came back to Pakistan with the passion to justify the cause and objectives of Hubert Humphrey fellowship to share my expertise for a positive change. Currently, I am in Islamabad, visiting national and international organizations like USAID etc. to look for a potential place/ forum to work, where I can effectively use my skills and expertise to help contribute to the growth and development of my country,” he wrote to me.
Before the advent of emails, in the age of political correctness and hypersensitivity, many are eager to paint the US as the arch enemy of Islam and Muslims; however, few will know that as US Vice-President Lyndon Johnson wrote in a cable to his departing camel rider friend Bashir , who did not even own a shoe before his visit to US: “ Since your return to Pakistan takes you so close to Mecca, arrangements have been made through the People-to-People program for you to visit there.”