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Friday November 30, 2012

Priceless trip

COLORADO is a beautiful place.

If you look at a map of the United States, it’s the rectangular state located towards the west of the country.

The Rocky Mountains, which run through much of Colorado, provide a spectacular backdrop to the scenery, accentuated by clear blue skies and sunshine.

Everywhere there are lovely views of mountains rising to snow-capped peaks, their slopes bedecked in autumn colours of red and gold.

I got to see Colorado and its beauty while participating in the American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL) US Elections 2012 exchange programme earlier this month.

Our 13-member delegation from South-East Asia and the Pacific spent about a week in Denver, the capital city, and Colorado Springs to study the elections — and enjoy the scenic views.

I remember looking out the window of the hotel room on my first morning in Denver and seeing a glimpse of distant mountains glowing in the sunrise. It was a prelude to the splendour of nature we would later feast our eyes on in Colorado Springs.

Denver is known as the Mile-High City because it sits at an altitude of exactly one mile (1,609m) above sea level. It also boasts 300 days of sunshine a year, and sure enough we experienced sunny days when we were there.

Colorado Springs has an even higher elevation of 6,035 feet (1,839m). Breathing can be difficult in the rarefied air but happily none of us suffered altitude sickness. (Just remember to drink plenty of water because the air is dry and avoid strenuous activity.)

The city is situated at the foot of Pikes Peak, a famous mountain whose summit inspired the song “America the Beautiful”, and it’s easy to see why.

The Broadmoor, where we stayed, was overlooked by a breathtaking panorama of mountains, reflected on a lake on the property.

We also visited the Garden of the Gods, a public park in Colorado Springs with majestic red rock formations, including a massive “balanced rock” standing on a narrow pedestal.

Our itinerary in Colorado was arranged by El Pomar Foundation, which supports non-profit organisations and community development in the state through grants and programmes.

I have to record my appreciation for the El Pomar Fellows for putting together a well thought-out programme of meetings, meals and receptions for us.

We met with politicians and groups from both Democratic and Republican sides as well as nonpartisan organisations, professors, students and government officials.

One group we met was New Era Colorado Foundation, a non-profit organisation geared towards getting young people involved in politics through an innovative hands-on approach.

“We try to make politics fun and engage people in a meaningful way,” one of its leaders said.

They had a bus trip planned for that day — getting volunteers on a bus to go to various neighbourhoods, knock on doors and speak to people.

Before setting off, the leaders briefed the volunteers on what to do. Each volunteer was given a pack of materials and instructions, including a map and list of doors to be knocked so that there would be no overlapping.

According to one of them, some reasons why young people don’t vote are not registering in time or finding the registration process too complicated and not knowing enough about issues.

“We want to make sure they have information so that they can make an educated choice. We’ll be passing out leaflets to give them information to guide their decision,” he told the volunteers.

I was impressed by how well organised and enthusiastic they were about going canvassing and engaging in politics, even more so as they were mostly young graduates.

But the exchange programme wasn’t just about learning from the groups we met, it was also an opportunity to learn from fellow delegates and compare notes about our respective political systems.

From the Filipino delegates, for example, we learnt about how an automated election system was introduced in the Philippines during the 2010 elections to count votes and transmit the results quickly and accurately.

Apparently it used to take up to a month or longer for election results to be known, during which manipulation could occur. The automated system enabled the results to be known within 24 hours and was a significant step towards reforming the electoral system.

Of course, we didn’t talk politics all the time. We also talked about food, discovering a common interest in rice, and about our countries, in a way promoting a bit of tourism.

At the end we agreed that the value of attending a programme such as this can’t be measured in dollars and cents.

We gained a wealth of information, yes, but also took away a rich experience of making new friends, establishing mutual understanding and creating opportunities for future networking and collaboration.

It was also invaluable in terms of bringing back ideas and inspiration for effecting positive changes in one’s own country.


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