Young Macedonian Students Tour State Department

Source: U.S. Embassy in Macedonia Website 

The United Macedonian Diaspora helped coordinate the visits to the Capitol and to the various monuments, Smithsonian museums, and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.  Several UMDiaspora members assisted as tour guides throughout the week visit.

Students are winners of annual Doors to Diplomacy Web site contest

By Mary Specht
Washington File Staff Writer
22 September 2006 

 Washington — Four Macedonian secondary-school students and their teacher spent a week in Washington after taking the top prize in the State Department’s annual Doors to Diplomacy Web site contest.  

The students each received a $2,000 scholarship for their work on the winning site, which tackles child poverty using dramatic pictures and music, real life stories and extensive background information about the issue. It also includes a forum within which users can discuss the problem. (See related article.)

“We can’t eradicate child poverty with this Web site, but we can raise awareness,” said Elena Georgievska, 17, who chose the topic for the Web site.  She and the other members of the group spoke with the Washington File September 20 during a tour of the State Department, where the students received their awards. 

Elena is completing her final year at the Metodi Mitevski Brico School in Delcevo, Macedonia, along with Zikica Pagovski, 18. The two others on the team, Zoran Dimitrovski, 19, and Ana Gjeorgievska, 19, recently graduated and are headed for universities. Their math and information technology teacher, Roza Stmenkovska, coached the students in creating their site and accepted a $500 prize for the school.

The Web site, entitled “Fight Poverty,” stood out among more than 300 entries from 46 countries because it “does tug at the heart strings,” said Janice Clark, a State Department public affairs specialist and one of the contest judges. Its opening animation shows photos of poor children living in desperate conditions, synced with an intense classical ballad by the Greek composer Vangelis.

“The introduction pulls you in right away,” Clark said. “But the site isn’t just pretty. It has a lot of information, it’s very deep.”

The site’s posting board has drawn more than 100 comments from users around the world who shared stories of poverty in their own countries and offered thoughts on a solution, the students said.

 The Macedonia team worked for six months on its Web site. The competition is a good experience for young people, said Zikica, offering friendship, practice in researching information, and “trying to change the world with ideas.”

At the State Department the students met with three interns in their late teens who work in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs.

“Obviously there are differences between us, but we’re all young people working to make a difference,” said intern Jenna Stephens.

They also met with Paul Pfeuffer, the department’s desk officer for Macedonia, who said Macedonia has had a greater impact in the southeast European region than might be expected of a nation of only 2 million people.

“You’re hitting above your weight,” Pfeuffer said, an expression used for boxing competitors who compete successfully in a weight class above those for which they qualify.

Zoren, who plans to study business and economics in college, said unemployment is Macedonia’s biggest problem, while Ana pointed out that the country “has a lot of talented young people, but many can’t go to the university because their parents can’t afford to send them.”

Pfeuffer responded that bolstering the Macedonian economy by setting up the conditions to attract foreign investment could help fight poverty and reduce unemployment.  He also said U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Gillian A. Milovanovic recently visited the United States and encouraged Macedonian-American groups to establish scholarships for talented students.

The United States will “stand by Macedonia and help it achieve its goals of EU and NATO membership and a prosperous future,” Pfeuffer said. “We want to be Macedonia’s best partner.”

Elena was optimistic about her country’s future, predicting that Macedonia will be part of the European Union within the next decade.

During their week in Washington, which was sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Skopje, the students visited the Washington Monument, World War II Memorial, the Smithsonian Institution museums, two universities and other popular destinations, including a large shopping mall.  They also visited the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, a nongovernmental organization, and the U.S. Agency for International Development. At the Capitol, they met with Congressman William Pascrell, a Democrat from New Jersey.

The annual Doors to Diplomacy contest challenges students ages 11 to 18 from around the world to create Web sites that teach the importance of international affairs and diplomacy.  It is managed and co-sponsored by Global SchoolNet, a San-Francisco-based nonprofit organization.

The students’ winning Web site may be viewed at Fight Poverty. Macedonia is featured on the travel sites Expedition: Macedonia and Eight Wonders of Macedonia.

More information about Doors to Diplomacy is available on the Global SchoolNet Foundation Web site. Information is also available about the State Department’s School Connectivity Project for Southeast Europe, which brought the first computers and the Internet to the Delcevo school.  It is a State Department program administered and co-sponsored by Catholic Relief Services.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)