St. Albert’s Jarrod Sokul recently returned from his ambassadorial trip to the United States, where he held important meetings with politicians as part of his work to secure funding for a local community service project.
That’s quite a lot, especially considering that he’s just about to enter Grade 12 at St. Albert Catholic High School.
“I’ve always had a great interest in politics and international relations,” he said, noting that those are his academic goals once he reaches the post-secondary level. “This was a good program to get a good taste of what all that is like and to learn more about another country.”
Sokul was one of 16 youth community leaders aged 15 to 18 from across the country who were accompanied by two adult educator mentors on the three-week all-expenses paid Youth Ambassadors program, all organized by the Center for the Study of Canada at State University of New York College (SUNY) at Plattsburgh, with support from the U.S. Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa and Fulbright Canada.
In mid-July, they all travelled to Ottawa, New York and Washington, D.C. to get some unique insights into how intergovernmental relations really work. The main objectives were to build mutual understanding and leadership skills, with the added bonus of helping the youths to figure out how to make a difference in their own communities.
Some of the highlights of his trip included a VIP tour of Washington, D.C. where he got to do a “really cool diplomacy simulation” inside the U.S. Department of State, a place not open to the general public. He even met with some high level officials working in the area of international relations.
“They brought us into a diplomacy room. They had all the microphones set up and translator booths. They gave us a scenario on refugees. It was all fake countries because they didn’t want to offend anyone. We had three students assigned to each of three countries and we had to try and create a solution for this refugee issue. It was basically to demonstrate the difficulty of diplomacy between countries,” he explained.
“It was tough. My country was the one that people were leaving. We were an authoritarian government. We were told that our job was to not be 100 per cent co-operative with everyone. That displays in today’s world with the issue between the United States and North Korea and the issues in global politics. We could have given up something but is that really what would have happened in real life?”
He also participated in an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the Port of Champlain border crossing to learn about how international trade and travel are co-ordinated from an official standpoint. He said he was fascinated with all of the technology involved, with the many cameras and high security operations yet everything must still run smoothly to keep things flowing between the two countries.
They pointed out how tough that can often be these days, what with the influx of refugees headed north around that area.
“They say that when I was there they were getting about 30 people a day headed north illegally crossing the border.”
At the end of it all, he got to make a presentation to the organizers about how he wants to help people right back here in St. Albert.
“I call it the Sports Assistance Foundation. The goal is to provide low-income families with funding who aren’t able to afford the extra fees that come with playing sports. Right now, we have KidSport and JumpStart in the community that provide the registration fees but once you get placed on a team, there are extra fees for tournaments, with hockey there’s practice ice that aren’t covered in that registration fee. There’s no funding for that.”
He received $200 from the U.S. Department of State to start up his charity project. Sokul is in the middle of organizing fundraisers and seeking out corporate or private sponsors to further establish the effort. He said that he would announce details on those once they are solidified. Otherwise, people could contact him via his email at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more or to offer assistance directly. He is hoping to raise $8,000 before the end of the year.
All in all, he considered it to be an excellent use of his summer.
“It was 100 per cent worthwhile. It was just a really cool experience. I’d recommend applying to anyone.”