The Obama Foundation has announced the inaugural cohort of its Obama Fellows Program, a two-year, non-residential program that brings together civic leaders from around the around who are "creating transformational change."
Selected from a pool of over twenty thousand applicants from more than a hundred and ninety countries and announced via the Guardian website, the twenty fellows include individuals from a variety of disciplines and with different skill sets who are applying their talents to a range of causes and initiatives, from empowering parents and teachers to improve their schools, to ensuring that deaf children have equal access to literacy tools, to bringing trauma-informed care to the criminal justice system and refugee camps.
According to the foundation, the new fellows' successes to date demonstrate how collaborative, community-driven work can lead to imaginative, long-lasting solutions — even for some of society's most intractable and polarizing problems. One of them, Zarlasht Halaimzai, arrived in Britain as a refugee from Afghanistan when she was 11. After training in psychotherapy and counseling, she visited the "Jungle" refugee camp in Calais, France, and was struck by the absence of volunteers who could speak refugees' languages. Today, she serves as executive director of the Refugee Trauma Initiative, which provides psychological help to thousands of refugees traumatized by war, torture, and displacement. Here in the U.S., Veronica Crespin-Palmer, co-founder and CEO of RISE Colorado, leads her organization's efforts to empower families in the state most affected by educational inequity and to organize others for change, while Keith Wattley, founder and executive director of UnCommon Law in Oakland, California, is helping to transform the lives of young people convicted of serious crimes and equipping them to become valuable members of the community.
"These twenty leaders, representing eleven countries, are tackling some of the toughest challenges in their communities," said former President Barack Obama in a statement. "They are doing the hard work — not for recognition, often without enough resources — because they have a vision of the world as it should be: a little more just, less isolated, more connected. I couldn't be prouder of this group, and I can't wait to learn from them and watch them grow over the next two years."