The Kennedy-Lugar: Youth Exchange And Study Program (KL: YES)

History and Background

The Department of State’s Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau in Washington, D.C. launched the Kennedy-Lugar: Youth Exchange and Study (KL: YES) program in 2003.

The objective of the program is to provide young Nigerian students from predominantly Muslim communities as well as those from historically disadvantaged backgrounds an opportunity to enhance their understanding of the American society, its people, institutions, values and culture.  The program targets Senior Secondary school I students who travel to the U.S. for one academic year and return home to join their colleagues at the Senior Secondary III level to complete their school certificate program.

Through this intense interaction over a prolonged period of time, students developed leadership skills, new friendships and a better understanding of America and its democratic way of life.

Students in the 2003-04 program came from 14 largely predominantly Muslim countries including Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirate, West Bank/Gaza and Yemen.  The profile of students in 2005-06 was similarly Muslim youths from Algeria, West Bank, Gaza, Iraq, Israel (Arab community), Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Malaysia, Philippines, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and India.

A U.S.-based NGO, Iowa Resource for International Services (IRIS) administers the Nigerian portion of the program with an initial $305,000 grant from the U.S. Department of State.

The rigor of the selection process accounts for the success of the program.  The Ministry of Education from each participating state and IRIS associates organize written and oral tests, and select the best Senior Secondary II students in the States.  These students are then short-listed and subjected to intense interviews before the final selection is made.

While the YES program commences in the U.S., the selection process starts in November of the preceding year to provide IRIS with adequate time to seek placements, as well as identify host families for the incoming students.

The Success Story

Since its inception in 2003 over 200 Nigerian youth from eight states in northern Nigeria and more than 12 teachers have participated in the program in the U.S.  The program began with two states of Kaduna and Sokoto until 2005 when it was expanded to include Plateau and Taraba States.  In 2006, Bauchi States joined on the program.   Three other states, namely Benue, Kebbi and Gombe were shortlisted for the program in 2009 bringing the number of states to eight.  There are plans to expand to Katsina State in 2013.

The program has received funding from some states that cost-share the travel and other logistic expenses for the selection and trips for visa interviews in Abuja.

YES students have performed well in their host schools.  There are several participants of the program who graduated from Nigerian universities with impressive results; others have gained admission to U.S. Universities undergoing their undergraduate studies.  In Ahmadu Bello University alone, there are up to fifteen alumni of the program pursuing different courses.

Zainab Mohammed, a participant in the first group was appointed Governor in her host school because of her leadership qualities.  Ishaq Adamu was a member of his host school’s football team and Abdul Jalal Mohammed was a star soccer player who helped his school to reach the finals of the state tournament.  He was also recognized as one of the best soccer players in Iowa.  Another YES student Buhari Yunusa helped establish a club for Islamic students at his school and won competitions at the mosque.  Abdulhafeez Lawal was a student spokesperson for his local newspaper.  He won the State Alumni of the Month for February 2006 because of his contributions in the formation of a Peace Club and his community service in Kaduna.

Others who made their mark include Aminu Jibrila and Maryam Umar who have had their stories published in a national newsletter for elementary school students.  Abdulsalam Abubakar, a deaf and speech impaired student who served as the first handicapped student to participate in the program excelled in the school he was placed.  He is currently the Deputy Chairman of the National Association for the Deaf and is working to ensure that deaf students from Nigeria obtain scholarships from Iowa to continue their education.

Since their return to Nigeria, the YES students have formed Peace Clubs to promote religious tolerance and resolve disputes among students in their respective schools.  They have participated in various community service projects, including environmental cleanup, visit and donations to orphanages.  The alumni group in Kaduna few years ago won Disney Award for their community service activities during the World Global Youth Day. Two of the YES alumni have travelled to U.S. after their program to participate in leadership and mentoring programs.  Bulus Mark won a prestigious leadership award in 2010 and Yusuf Adamu Marafa was in the U.S. in September/October to participate in the arrival orientation for KL-YES participants from across the world.  He made a very outstanding presentation of his accomplishments in Nigeria.  He run an NGO called Youth Volunteer Initiative in Zaria, Kaduna State which has trained many youth on computer skills as HIV/AIDS peer educators.

Newspaper Stories

In Iowa, young Africans learn to change the world (June 5, 2007)

Application Closes: November 30

The Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy Abuja invites applications from student leaders in selected Nigerian universities for this program which aims at exposing them to social entrepreneurship and how they can use the skills to solve social problems.  It is a four-week program that consists of intensive academic work on campus, tour of some cities to meet with local, state, and private organizations working on social entrepreneurship, and final three day activities in Washington DC.

The Institute takes place at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, from June through July of each year.  The selection criteria for this program include:

  • Demonstrable strong leadership qualities
  • Strong interest in social entrepreneurship
  • Demonstrable commitment to community service and university extra-curricular activities
  • Fluency in English
  • Be between 18 and 25 years of age
  • Have a sustained high level of academic performance
  • Hold a leadership position in home institution
  • Strong recommendations from two referees
  • indicate serious interest in learning about the U.S.
  • Be mature, responsible, independent, confident, open-minded, thoughtful, inquisitive and tolerant.
  • Be a continuing student with strong desire to return home and complete their degree

Applications must be in a designed form and enclosed with copies of transcripts and recommendation letters from two referees.

All correspondence to:

Cultural Affairs Assistant, U.S. Embassy, Plot 1075, Diplomatic Drive, Central Area, Abuja; email:; or Cultural Affairs Assistant, U.S. Consulate General, 2 Walter Carrington Crescent, Victoria Island, Lagos; email: