Lionel Rogers Returns from U.S. Exchange Program

For Lionel Rogers, returning home to Fiji after a four-month exchange program in the United States has invigorated him to help address mental health challenges for Fiji’s youth.

Lionel’s long history of work and deep passion to improve mental health and prevent suicide led him to apply for the Community Solutions Program (CSP), a four-month exchange program learning from community organizations in the United States.

“I saw the Community Solutions Program as the perfect opportunity to hone my skills as a leader in the mental health sector. My experience in new cultural setting changed my perspectives of the United States and also evolved my knowledge and skills in working with people of diverse cultures.”

The U.S. Embassy’s Regional Public Diplomacy Officer Rebecca Archer-Knepper said, “The CSP is a unique type of exchange experience which allows NGO specialists from around the world to spend time sharing their knowledge and learning how other organizations in the United States address similar challenges.”

Rogers’ experience with suicide and mental health challenges has motivated his inspiring work as one of the first responders to provide mental health support during times of crisis or natural disasters and being involved in several emergency response programs. Rogers said, “As a child, I had to struggle alone in a world that didn’t understand me and couldn’t provide the support I needed. This life experience has motivated me to devote the last decade of my life working with young people to understand what they are experiencing and most importantly so they know that they aren’t alone and there is support available.”

Rogers was assigned to work with the YES Institute in Miami, Florida. The YES Institute is one of the leading nonprofit organizations in the United States working exclusively with young people to overcome self-harm, depression, and suicide. He helped clients of the YES Institute to address the root causes of discrimination, harassment, and suicide by initiating authentic, purposeful dialogue and providing education on gender and sexual orientation. During his program, Rogers contributed critical support to the institute while learning more about educational models to make a community safe for all young people.

Lionel Rogers (middle) with his colleagues.

“I love learning,” said Rogers. “My practicum with the YES Institute provided me with a platform to learn from U.S. experts working in gender and orientation and share my experiences in the field. Working alongside these experts improved my skills in program and curriculum development, research, governance and ethical leadership. I was eager to learn as much as I could within the four months and bring back as much information as possible to improve my programs and my advocacy in the community. With this opportunity, I am able to reflect and improve my own personal leadership and it provided me with tools for program development, strategic planning and partnerships and also effective leadership styles in social movements.”

After returning to Fiji, Rogers reflected on the deep impact of his experience as a CSP fellow. “The decision to apply for the Community Solutions Program 2018 was one of the finest I have ever made. Selected from over 2,300 applications, I am now a part of a network of 90 fellows from 66 countries supporting and motivating each other to do more for humanity. CSP provided me with an enriching online and practical experience in professional leadership development within a social change context in the United States. From the U.S. Embassy Suva to the dedicated team at CSP, I had 24-hour support and guidance for the duration of the practicum. The experience, although daunting at first and having to acclimatize to a totally new culture, was an amazing opportunity to learn from some of the best. Working under the mentorship of Dr. Deidre Combs was so rewarding and has improved my leadership greatly. Returning home is exciting as I have a Community Action Project, which I will be implementing and I have so many ideas on improving our local advocacy programs.”

“The experience has changed my perception of the United States and her people and I am truly thankful for the opportunity. It is my wish that more of my peers get to experience a program such as this at least once in their lifetime,” said Rogers.

The Community Solutions Program is the U.S. Department of State’s intensive professional leadership development program. To learn more about the program visit
https://www.irex.org/project/community-solutions