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Fulbright Amizade Participants Travel to Appalachia for Service Learning

Story by Fulbright March 21st, 2017

In April 2017, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs will sponsor six Fulbright Foreign Student Program participants and six Fulbright U.S. Student Program alumni to engage in a week-long service-learning program in Williamson, West Virginia led by Amizade Global Service-Learning. The selected participants, emerging leaders in a variety of fields, have all demonstrated a commitment to service in their communities.

This activity will support the Fulbright Program’s overall mission of increasing mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by forging a meaningful connection between these Fulbrighters and an American community with valuable lessons to share. The focus on service learning highlights the importance of volunteerism in the United States and how local communities in Appalachia are pioneering and engaging in thoughtful work in order to maintain their cultural framework while also creating a realm of new opportunities.

During their week-long program in Williamson, the group of twelve Fulbrighters will participate in community service activities and learn about the town and its history. Williamson is a small, rural coal-mining town in Mingo County that was once home to 10,000 residents and a thriving coal economy in the mid-20th century. However, in recent years, Williamson has experienced a collapsed coal mining industry, a series of devastating floods, and de-population.

Now with a population of 3,000, Williamson residents have joined together to create Sustainable Williamson, the local organization with which Fulbright students and alumni will be working. Sustainable Williamson works to increase access to fresh foods, initiate active living programs, and teach healthy lifestyle choices.

Amizade, through its partnership with Sustainable Williamson in the Appalachia region, will offer Fulbright participants enriching service opportunities throughout the week relating to education, agricultural and economic sustainability, community health and how these aspects of a community are interrelated. This will be the second year in which Fulbrighters visit Williamson to participate in Amizade’s service learning program. Reflections from 2016 Fulbright Amizade participants can be found here.

This year’s Fulbright Amizade participants will chronicle their experiences on the Fulbright Student Program blog, as well as on social media using #FulbrightAmizade. We invite you to follow along!

Meet the Fulbright Participants

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Benjamin Cohn was a Fulbright-mtvU Fellow to Ghana in 2014-2015. He spent just under a year researching and writing about Ghana’s rich musical history, culture and educational infrastructure. He wrote articles for Afropop Worldwide, OkayAfrica, SIT and his own music websites while mtvU also featured his video web-series called Da Hip Life, showcasing some of the talented artists he met. Back in his hometown of San Francisco, he is an administrator for a local non-profit and continues to cover Arts & Culture.

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Bianca Patel was a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Malaysia in 2015-2016. Prior to her Fulbright grant, Bianca graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Science in Public Health and helped advocate for underserved communities, particularly through leadership education and service learning. She is passionate about improving animal, human and environmental health and most recently using storytelling to engage and inspire. She is always seeking opportunities in which she can work with others to help build thriving communities.

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Bror Marcus Cederström was a Fulbright U.S. Student researcher in Sweden in 2014¬–2015. His research focused on immigrant women who returned to Sweden from the United States. As a folklorist, he examined the role of work, the vernacular expression about work, and the way in which they come together to form a sense of community in the US. Marcus is now the community curator of Nordic-American folklore at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He received his B.A. in Sports Business, History, and Scandinavian Studies from the University of Oregon and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Scandinavian Studies and Folklore from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Currently, he is conducting research on immigration to the United States, identity formation, North American Indigenous communities, and sustainability.

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Cherif Ag Mohamed Ibrahim is a Fulbright Student from Mali, West Africa. He holds a bachelor's degree in private law and a master's degree in applied linguistics. Prior to coming to the United States, he taught translation at Ecole Normale Supérieure ( Senior Teachers Training college) in Bamako, the capital of Mali. As a Fulbright Student he is pursuing a master's degree at the University of Massachusetts Boston in conflict resolution, global governance and human security and also serves as an intergroup dialogue facilitator with Soliya. He wishes to bring knowledge back to Mali to help create a department of peace, conflict and sustainable development. He also hopes to create a network for dialogue facilitation, mediation and negotiation in Mali and Africa and collaborate with international organizations for the promotion of peace and development.

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David E. Natarén Oyuela is a Fulbright Student from Honduras pursuing a Master in Public Administration at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He graduated from an M.B.A. program with two specializations in Economics & Finance and Sustainable Development. After working in the private sector in Central America he founded a consulting firm to help small and medium sized companies in the region to develop sustainable strategies. He also served as a volunteer for several initiatives to tackle serious issues such as poverty, violence against women, access to financial products and services, and others. More recently, he has been working on the creation of a foundation to help other Hondurans who want to study abroad prepare their applications and eventually also fund their studies.

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Edward Lo was a Fulbright U.S. Student researcher in Brazil in 2014-2015. His work explored changes in lake vegetation and sedimentary deposits to assess the impact on community sustainability in the Pantanal (among the world’s largest wetlands). Edward is finishing a master’s degree in geology, and will pursue a Ph.D. in August 2017 at the University of Kentucky. He enjoys constructing low-cost exhibits and using free, open-source software to raise awareness of earth science. In Appalachia, he is interested in understanding how the geosciences can help marginalized communities leverage their locations’ distinct attributes to strengthen the local economy.

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Farah Akhtar is a Fulbright Student from Pakistan, working towards her Ph.D. in electrical engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder. Prior to embarking on her Ph.D., she served as a faculty member in the Computer Engineering department at the Islamia University of Bahawalpur, Pakistan where she taught Digital System Design, Signal Processing and Operating Systems to undergraduate students. Her research is dedicated to the use of engineering and remote sensing infrastructure for better water resource management in the Indus basin and to develop an understanding of the effects of global climate change in the Himalayas. She intends to promote research in environmental and water management policy and infrastructure upon her return to Pakistan. Farah believes in equitable and just use of the world’s resources and hopes to leverage technology to achieve that goal.

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Jorge Caraballo Cordovez is a Fulbright Student from Colombia pursuing a Master of Arts in Journalism with a Media Innovation concentration at Northeastern University. He understands his profession as a social service and he uses both online and offline strategies to engage the communities with the reporting process and to make sure that the final product will be useful for them. Currently he’s covering the housing crisis of Boston, where thousands of low-income families are being displaced out of the city.

This will be his second visit to Williamson, West Virginia, and he’s looking forward to completing a photo essay about the impact of the coal industry’s decline, and to document the activities of this Fulbright service-learning opportunity with Amizade.

Photo by Adam Glanzman

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Kinga Zsofia Horvath is a Fulbright Student from Hungary pursuing a Master of Arts in Philanthropic studies at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Prior to receiving the Fulbright grant, Kinga conducted academic research on cooperation between the public and nonprofit sectors at the Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary. Simultaneously, she worked for a charity organization focusing on the emotional and professional development of homeless people and children living in foster care. Kinga developed a strong sense of devotion to community organizations and citizen involvement by volunteering in Hungary, Panama, Belgium, and the U.S. Kinga hopes to increase her own understanding and contribute to the work of nonprofit organizations in Williamson by developing and sharing her knowledge in community development, fundraising and nonprofit management.

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Laura Robinson was a Fulbright U.S. Student researcher in India in 2014-2015. She studied capacity-building programs for elected women representatives in the local Indian government. In March 2017 Laura completed a year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA for World Relief Jacksonville, the largest refugee resettlement agency in northeast Florida. This fall she will begin pursuing a Master of Global Policy Studies, focused on nonprofit management. After graduating, Laura hopes to lead international nonprofits to promote gender equity through social and policy change.

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Mylinh Huang was a Fulbright U.S. Student researcher in Vietnam in 2015-2016, where she studied resilience planning and water resource management. During her grant term, she coordinated and participated in knowledge exchange workshops on these topics with academics, expert consultants and local stakeholders. As both a practitioner and researcher, she looks forward to learning more about economic development and disaster risk management initiatives taking place in Williamson, West Virginia. Currently, she is pursuing a doctorate degree in policy, planning and development at the University of Southern California.

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Reina is a Fulbright Student from Lebanon, pursuing an LL.M. in Human Rights and Comparative Constitutional Law at the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently a Human Rights Scholar at The Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice at UT. Last semester, she worked for the Human Rights Clinic assisting a Mauritanian organization to get legal recognition from national authorities. Before receiving the Fulbright grant, she served as a United Nations National Volunteer at the UNDP contributing to the municipal election operations in Lebanon. She also interned at a number of International Organizations. Reina aspires to devote her knowledge and expertise to serving the underprivileged.

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Seok Wun Au Yong is a Fulbright Student from Malaysia pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Film at Syracuse University. A filmmaker, educator, and underwater cinematographer, Seok is interested in telling compelling human stories and believes storytelling is a powerful tool to change the world. Prior to coming to the U.S. she spent some time teaching an acting and filmmaking workshop at a community school for undocumented children in Borneo. She is currently working on a film about a coming-of-age transgender teenager.