by Carolyn Males

When North Korea hit the headlines earlier this year, Governor Bill Richardson stepped onto the stage at First Presbyterian Church to talk to 800 members of the World Affairs Council of Hilton Head about his experiences in The Hermit Kingdom. As a diplomat and special envoy he had made eight trips there over the years to negotiate the release of hostages and to address other humanitarian concerns.

The insights he offered to WACHH about his visits gave a fascinating picture of a strange, isolated culture of Potemkin-type cities, impressive-looking buildings with no heat or electricity, many of them vacant and uninhabitable. On one such delegation, Richardson, along with Google’s Eric Schmidt, was escorted to a computer school where officials proudly showed off the country’s technical proficiency and advances as rows and rows of young men clicked away on their keyboards. But any good impressions quickly faded…it turned out that none of the machines were up and running.

It’s behind-the-scenes stories like these along with the extensive expertise in international affairs of the WACHH’s guest speakers––all experts from across the globe––that draw crowds to the organization’s Friday morning series. Among the topics in this year’s lineup: Inside Terrorism Today; Asia and America in the Age of Trump; Global Health; Iran’s Strategy in the Middle East; India’s Rise on the World Stage; and the Ukraine-Russian Crisis. The final talk in May will feature David Eisenhower II, grandson of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, discussing “World War II’s Promise for Liberal Democracy.”

WACHH also offers a special four-part Evening Speaker Series featuring world-class experts who call the Lowcountry home. This season’s topics include: Larry Kramer, President and Publisher of USA Today, on today’s media; Ambassador Everett Briggs on US-Cuban policy; US diplomat Patrick Skinner on his CIA and other intelligence experiences; and Assistant Secretary to the Navy Allison Stiller on building the Navy we need.

So why come out to WACHH when you can watch talking heads on TV from the comfort of your couch?  The difference is that these programs are not just sound-bites but deep delves into a subject by specialists working in the field. After each talk, the session opens up to questions from the audience. So you can ask that burning query about our trade policy with China, or nuclear weapons in Iran, or cyber security.

What’s more you get to share your ideas, insights, and questions with WACHH’s 1100 local members who come from business, diplomatic, university, publishing, government, military, and nonprofit backgrounds. But even if you’re a store clerk or dog walker with an interest in global events, you’re welcome to join up. Students from Beaufort County high schools often attend as well. As one teacher said, “coming to these talks offers our kids a broader perspective on world studies.”

Student outreach is an important part of WACHH’s mission. As part of the World Affairs Councils of America, it sponsors the local Academic WorldQuest program where teams of students from Beaufort County public and private high schools compete to test their world knowledge. (Both Beaufort and May River have won in the past.) This year’s winning team will go to Washington DC for the national finals in the spring.

WACHH also supports Beaufort County’s participation in the Model United Nations academic program. Along with providing financial support, Council members who have lived in other parts of the world mentor these teen delegates on the countries they’re assigned to study.

Other WACHH member programs include: a fall forum where small groups come together to discuss challenging topics built around a noteworthy book, and a Great Decisions Discussion Program that provides participants with opportunities to expand their knowledge on particular global issues. In addition, as part of community outreach, the council offers a summer forum on current issues that is open free to the public. In the past these have included topics like human trafficking, the drug trade, and education.

So, whether you’re an armchair traveler or a globe-trotting adventurer join WACHH to discover more about the planet we live on and become a better informed citizen of the world.

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