The Neighborhood Advocate

CEE Program Exposes Healthcare Professionals from Iraq and Uzbekistan to a Unique U.S. Community-Based Behavioral Health Approach

Community Engagement Exchange Program Fellow Ali Al-Turaihi , Administrative Manager Iris Y. Grillasca Torres, Assistant Clinical Director Kevin Berio, Clinical Director Carmen Ziers and Fellow Nigora Sanakulova at the YAP Orange County, Fla. office.

Orlando, Fla. – Nigora Sanakulova and Ali Al-Turaihi are completing fellowships with Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. in Orange County, Florida through the U.S. State Department’s Community Engagement Exchange (CEE) Program. Working with YAP employees in Florida, Sanakulova and Al-Turaihi are getting a firsthand understanding of  the nonprofit’s unique intensive youth and family community-based wraparound services behavioral health approach.

Nigora Sobirdjanovna Sanakulova.

YAP is a national nonprofit in 35 states and the District of Columbia with an international footprint that delivers community-based services as an alternative to youth incarceration, residential care, and neighborhood violence.  The CEE Program is a dynamic global network of innovators working with communities to address critical 21st century issues. CEE equips dedicated visionaries with the expertise, skills, and resources to develop multisector approaches and build healthy and engaged communities in over 100 countries. Al-Turaihi and Sanakulova are among the second cohort of CEE fellows that YAP is hosting.

Al-Turaihi is a physician who works as a health field officer at International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) in Iraq. He oversees the health services provision in the detention clinics ensuring they are accessible and equitable to those in community settings. Al-Turaihi said the CEE program provides him with an opportunity to plunge into a new culture by sharing and exchanging skills, experiences, and challenges; in addition to “networking with a lot of amazing people from different backgrounds.”

“Honestly, this program helped me strengthen my leadership skills like public speaking, interpersonal and communication skills, conflict resolution and brainstorming new community-based projects including setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound) goals beforehand,” Al-Turaihi said. “I think that matching with YAP as a host organization was a privilege for everyone who seeks the mental and behavioral part of his/her future projects. I met a lot of inspirational therapists; I learned a lot from them, and I am hoping to convey and implement this experience once I return back to my hometown.”

Ali Abdulkareem Al-Turaihi.

Sanakulova is from Bukhara, Uzbekistan, where she works as a psychologist at a private school. She has also created her own Child Development Center for children ages 3-6. She earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Bukhara State University. Sanakulova said being a participant of the CEE program has helped with her personal development and leadership skills, gaining new talents and improving upon existing ones, all while being able to meet new people.

“I love my workplace. (Youth Advocate Programs) is dedicated to helping people when they seem to be having the most difficult time with their families, peers, and community,” Sanakulova said. “Plus, they assist with the growth and development of youth. The work environment and culture are excellent including helpful coworkers and supervisors. We are now a big family. It is my pleasure to work and learn from them.”

YAP Central Florida Clinical Director Carmen Ziers said Sanakulova and Al-Turaihi are doing a great job integrating with the rest of the clinicians and they are developing some projects for the Orlando office.

“Coming from other cultures, they are fully immersing themselves in our culture, learning professional practices, and enriching their own skills to bring back to their home country,” Ziers said. “They also plan to contribute to YAP by sharing their own ideas and creating initiatives to better serve the population we work with. We are making them feel welcome and supported during their time with our agency.”

The CEE Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and supported in its implementation by IREX. YAP is also hosting  fellows Imane Lakbachi from Morocco in Chicago and Kabirakhon Tojalieva from Uzbekistan in Pittsburgh, Pa. In 2020, YAP hosted fellows from Haiti and Romania.

Director of International Programs and Development Diana Matteson and CEE/YAP Fellows Imane Lakbachi, Nigora Sanakulova, Kabirakhon Tojalieva and Ali Al-Turaihi.

“YAP was so impressed by the contributions and reciprocal learning afforded by hosting two fellows in the very first Community Engagement Exchange Program (CEE) last year that we expanded our welcome to four fellows for this second cohort,” said YAP Director of International Programs and Development Diana Matteson. “YAP values the professional and personal growth that our hosts and YAP community can experience by being part of CEE.”

Learn more about the CEE Program on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or the CEE website. For more information on YAP, visit  or follow YAP on Twitter @YAPInc.

Research for this (book, article, video, etc.) was supported in part by the Community Engagement Exchange Program, a program of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the United States Department of State, implemented by IREX. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not represent the Community Engagement Exchange Program, the U.S. Department of State, or IREX.

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