AEP: Making International Connections

By Pam Reinig, Editor, Clayton County Register, Elkader, Iowa (October 7, 2015)

A Mexican-American high school student from Phoenix who studied last summer in Israel heard a phrase there that he hopes will never apply to Emir Abdelkader: “A soldier dies twice. Once on the battlefield and again when he is forgotten.”

“Abdelkader did not die twice,” Jonathan Carrillo-Lopez said during his recent, first-ever visit to the town that bears the Emir’s name. “His significance in history and the things he taught has stayed alive. This weekend is proof of that.”

Carrillo-Lopez was the second-place winner in the U.S. high school division of the 2015 Abdelkader Global Leadership Prize essay contest. He traveled from Arizona to Northeast Iowa to accept his $500 prize at the organizers’ invitation. Carrillo-Lopez was accompanied by his mentor-teacher, who helped him learn English when he came to the U.S. just a few years ago.

“I’m so happy to be here, and to see this program getting larger and larger,” Carrillo-Lopez told a group that included Ambassador Madjid Bouguerra, Algerian Embassy in Washington, D.C. “I have learned so much about Abdelkader and I have come to admire him a great deal. I am so honored to receive this prize.”

Presentation of essay honors was part of a two-day event that included a community welcome dinner, business and education forums, music, networking and keynote addresses.

In his comments to the crowd at the community dinner, Ambassador Bouguerra, also making his first trip to Elkader, applauded the Abdelkader Education Project for its global reach.

“Thanks to (the organizers’) work, they have given a new dynamic to the relationship between Algeria and Iowa, and, by extension, to the U.S. and our country,” he said. “I can assure you that the Algerian Embassy in Washington will always be on your side and always forwarding your message.”

The ambassador singled out Elkader resident Kathy Garms as the organizational force behind the weekend. He also gave a nod to author John Kiser for reawakening people to Abdelkader’s extraordinary personality, his honorable treatment of friend and foe, his compassion, charisma, and brilliant statesmanship with his 2008 book, Commander of the Faithful.

Among the illustrious guests at the 2015 forum was Abdelkader’s great-great-grandson, Elemir Khaled Eljazairy, who now works for a construction company in Dubai. At the dinner and other events, he proudly distributed a self-published booklet that tells “The Legend of Elkader” in two languages.

Now in its sixth year, the forum was expanded to include several new events. Central students assembled at the historic Elkader Opera House to hear presentations as well as music by a group that played Andalusian tunes. Kiser also took the stage at this event to discuss the town’s namesake in ways that resonated with the youngsters.

“Think of George Washington,” he told the dozens of students. “He’s kind of an Algerian George Washington.”
Two breakout sessions were offered Saturday morning, one on education programs and outreach and the other on business opportunities with Algeria. Dr. Ismael Chikhoune, CEO and president of the U.S. Algeria Business Council in Washington D.C., was one of the presenters. He stated unequivocally that his goal is to increase trade between the two countries.

“There are 114 U.S. companies operating in Algeria,” he said, “and there is room for many more. There is room for everyone. Algeria recognizes the quality of U.S. products and the quality of U.S. expertise. We are excited to work together.”

The Abdelkader Education Project (AEP) is a non-profit organization that endeavors to broaden global perspectives by providing opportunities to learn about the Middle East and Islamic culture through the legacy of Emir Abdelkader. Following is a complete list of the 2015 essay contest winners.

Iowa High School essay winners—First place ($1,000), Connor Freeman, Decorah High School, and second place ($500), Hannah Gaffney, West Delaware High School, Manchester; U.S. High School essay winners—first place ($1,000), James Wendt, Naperville North High School, and second place ($500), Jonathan Carillo-Lopez, Trevor G. Browne High School, Phoenix; and U.S. College essay winners—first place ($1,500), Fatima Tayebi, Wayne State University, and second place ($1,000), Mandy Conrad, University of Iowa.