Tonia Casarin, Brazil ’19, founder of Fireworks Education, is helping children and caregivers around the world confront the trauma caused by two crisis: the Syrian conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic.
While on fellowship in the U.S., Casarin met with representatives from Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind the beloved children’s program “Sesame Street.” Since that initial meeting, she has worked with Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to develop curriculum for 52 episodes of “Ahlan Simsim,” a television program that teaches children to understand and manage their emotions. The Arabic and Kurdish-language program airs in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria.
With children accounting for more than half of the 12 million people displaced by the Syrian conflict, there is a desperate need for coping skills to understand and manage emotions. Using Casarin’s curriculum, the IRC trains volunteers from local communities to teach parents how to use play as part of early learning. Learning essential social and emotional skills, along with reading and math skills, helps children control their emotions and resolve conflict. It also helps them persevere through times of crisis.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sesame Workshop once again contacted Casarin to help children and caregivers understand and manage their emotions. Casarin is developing digital content for Caring for Each Other,a new Sesame Street platform that helps families cope with the health crisis. Casarin sees this platform as an opportunity to reach a broader audience and help children in crisis all over the globe. Sesame Workshop plans to make her content available the United States, Latin America, Europe, India and South Africa.
An author of ten books, including the bestselling children’s title “I Have Monsters in My Tummy,” Casarin’s one meeting with Sesame Workshop during her Eisenhower Fellowship has become an ongoing partnership. “I love to see the little things I do have a big impact,” says Casarin.
In Ireland, Eisenhower Fellows Salome Mbugua (Ireland ’10) and Oonagh McPhillips (Ireland ’16) work in separate (and sometimes opposite) areas of advocacy and government respectively. But they have recently come together to work on developing an important new law to combat hate speech.
A researcher, gender equality activist and human rights advocate, Salome was born in Kenya and has lived in Ireland since 1994. She founded AkiDwA (Swahili for “sisterhood”), The Migrant Women’s Network, in 2001 to address isolation, racism and gender-based violence. Salome holds a master’s degree in Equality Studies from University College Dublin and is finishing her doctorate at Trinity College Dublin. In 2018 Salome was the first African woman to be appointed to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.
From a working class background in Dublin, Oonagh started work as a temp at 17. Having worked her way through the ranks in the Irish civil service, she holds a master’s degree in communications and is currently deputy secretary general in the Department of Justice and Equality. Oonagh heads up the Department’s criminal justice pillar with responsibility for security, policing, prisons and criminal law.
Part of Oonagh’s work is a review of Ireland’s outdated law on hate speech, which includes consulting the public about, among other issues, how the law might be improved and what the responsibilities of publishers should be. Salome supported the launch of the consultation and is promoting it across her network. This is one element of a series of measures across all areas of government designed to address hatred and intolerance, spanning across policies, operational areas, law enforcement and educational measures designed to support a safe, fair and inclusive Ireland, where expressions of hatred and prejudice are not tolerated, and can be dealt with swiftly and effectively where they occur.
Salome’s support is vital to this work, as is her expertise and first hand experience. “Hate speech has a chilling effect on people, particularly women, and we need to make sure that our laws support people in combatting this while balancing our constitutional right to freedom of expression,” she says. Salome’s leadership is allowing the government to hear from people who have real world experience which will be vital in helping to construct an effective, balanced law in this complex area.
Through the organization that I co-founded—the Deaf Zimbabwe Trust—we are currently working on increasing access to quality education for children and young people with deafness, through advocacy for policy reform and placement of deaf young people in higher education institutions. We aim to impact more than 40,000 children who are deaf and hard of hearing and, more broadly, 600,000 children with disabilities. I am passionate about the work I do because it changes the lives of people who are deaf for the better, and it enables deaf people to take charge of their future using opportunities available to them.
We are partnering with the Open Society Foundation and IM Swedish Partner for Development for this project. I was introduced to the Open Society Foundation while on fellowship, and they have since provided financial support to Deaf Zimbabwe Trust through the Southern African Office for advocacy for the development of the inclusive education policy.
Since my fellowship, we’ve accomplished the following goals:
Contributed to the development of a countrywide inclusive education policy to be rolled out by 2020. The policy will positively influence the education of over 600,000 children with disabilities in Zimbabwe, as estimated by UNICEF.
Established a sign language syllabus for early childhood education up to third grade
Worked with Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education in developing a Curriculum for Sign Language and Sign Language Interpretation. This is the first in the country and was inspired by lessons learned during the fellowship.
Created a first-of-its-kind pilot program, which has so far helped seven deaf young people enroll to study for a diploma in social work with a local university and two to enroll to study for a diploma in education.
While my work today has not substantively changed from when I was on fellowship, the fellowship made my work richer and better. During my fellowship, I realized that each one of us has a part to play in making real the EF mission. I realized that without equality and inclusion, a just and peaceful society cannot be built. The fellowship gave me a picture of inclusion that has enabled persons with disabilities to thrive and the presence of policies for persons with disabilities that have helped create a just society. These values were exemplified by the schools for the deaf and colleges and institutions that provide support to the deaf community that I visited on fellowship. Throughout the fellowship, I realized that a prosperous world could be achieved if everyone is able to contribute effectively, and this is done through the creation of an enabling policy environment.
Being part of the fellowship network has influenced my work in a number of ways. Iron sharpens iron, and being part of this vibrant network has allowed me to meet with leaders in my field from whom I have drawn lessons and shared ideas. We have been able to find common ground in the area of education. I have also been able to access resources that I would otherwise not access if I were not part of the fellowship, and these have stretched me professionally. For example, I followed with interest the EF workshop on education with Angela Duckworth, of the University of Pennsylvania, and how this could apply to children with disabilities.
In early 2018 and 2019, I worked on a project with Jude Udo Ilo (Nigeria ’16). In advance of the Zimbabwe election, I was part of a team that set up and implemented the Zimbabwe Election Situation Room for which I provided project management support. Jude provided technical support and mentorship support for the project, which ended up being a success. The support was in-person as well as virtual. The success of the Zimbabwe Situation Room 2018 was, to a large extent, due to his support of the process.
Finally, the network has provided support for me at a personal level. As the political situation in Zimbabwe is not stable, and at times violent, Fellows, who have become friends, have been a source of support.
Dr. Antonio Eduardo Fernandes D’Aguiar (Brazil ’96) was a surgeon treating disease in the body at the time of his fellowship to the United States in 1996. He credits his fellowship for revolutionizing the way he viewed his profession and the role that he wanted to play as a doctor. When he returned to Brazil, he made a radical transition to focus on preventative health and wellness. He realized he was treating patients at the tail-end of their health concerns, and could make much more of an impact by helping individuals achieve greater levels of wellness before they even got sick. He has been working as a Healthcare Manager for a corporation, ARCADIS, where he is responsible for the health and well-being for employees. Listen below to hear his story.
Providing safe and alternative spaces for children in Chile
In Santiago, Chile, Fundación Ganémosle a la Calle (Let’s Win the Streets Foundation), an innovative urban nonprofit, will dramatically deepen and expand its groundbreaking after-school sports recreation programs to give thousands of disadvantaged children new opportunities to escape the dangers of street life. Eisenhower Fellow Maria Gracia Carvallo(Chile ’18), executive director of Ganémosle, plans to increase the number of children in the foundation’s programs from 500 to 3,000 over the next five years and expand the organization’s reach from the streets of Santiago to rural regions of Chile. In addition to providing structured, supervised recreational outlets for Chilean youth, the foundation will develop new nutritional and psychological programs to instill and reinforce healthy lifestyle habits. Maria Gracia is applying new ideas and approaches she learned in the United States during her Eisenhower Fellowship to craft new ways to tell Ganémosle’s story and attract long-term financial support. Her vision is to grow her organization across her country in a sustainable way and provide safe, alternative spaces after school doors close that nourish Chilean children’s full potential.
Creating opportunities for the youth of Buenos Aires
In Argentina, 50% of students don’t graduate from high school, 50% of graduates don’t reach minimum reading and math standards and youth unemployment is double the national rate. Fundación Junior Achievement, an innovative global nonprofit, will dramatically deepen its impact over the next five years from 7,500 to 120,000 students from the province and city of Buenos Aires to prepare and inspire them for the world of work and higher studies in a context of fast changing Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Eisenhower Fellow Noël Zemborain(Argentina ’19), executive director of JA, is crafting a robust scale-up strategy that includes deepening strategic partnerships with the private and public sector. She will apply new ideas and approaches learned during her Eisenhower Fellowship in order to create a comprehensive curriculum that includes project- and competency-based programs and performance assessments on entrepreneurship, financial literacy and work readiness. By 2021, she intends to launch pilot programs to foster internships, design a blended teacher training course and network and a robust measurement and evaluation framework. Ultimately, she envisions transforming JA into a strong advocate and research base for innovation in public education.
Colombia’s Minister of Housing has big plans for ending a cash-infused economy
Colombia’s economic and national development has been hindered by significant levels of criminal activity: smuggling, terrorism, drug trafficking and corruption. All of these activities, which are fundamentally economic transactions, can be eliminated or mitigated by moving the bulk of Colombian economic activity away from cash and towards cashless alternatives such as card payments or electronic payments that can be traced and investigated by authorities. Additionally, the use of cash allows for a shadow economy that, while legitimate, is out of the reach of taxation, thereby hindering the ability of the state to effectively govern and provide public services.
Jonathan Malagon (Colombia ’17), as then-vice president of Colombia’s National Banking Association, ASOBANCARIA, one of the most influential business associations in Colombia, used his Eisenhower Fellowship to develop a national plan to transition the country’s economy towards cashless transactions. During the fellowship, he developed a number of actionable steps, including a revised regulatory framework that will allow for new technologies and players to participate in electronic banking, best practices in preventing money laundering in the banking system and a set of research initiatives aimed at cultural and other systemic barriers to encouraging electronic payments by consumers, merchants and the banking system.
Access to affordable personal loans makes weathering financial challenges possiblein Brazil
Thiago Alvarez (Brazil ’14) started an online platform to make personal financial management possible for the middle class in São Paulo and beyond. As CEO of Guiabolso, Thiago came on his Eisenhower Fellowship to learn about U.S. financial markets, fintech innovations and other tools that he could bring back to Brazil. The result was making personal loans available to those in need at a substantially lower-rate than the existing market. Average personal loans cost more than 320% per year in the Brazilian market, but Thiago’s company is able to offer loans with a rate of 58.3% per year that users are able to access online through an app. Access to lower-cost loans protect families in crisis who may take out loans to take care of emergency medical expenses and other unforeseen monthly expenses.
Listen here for his lessons learned and unique Eisenhower experience.