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Oct 22, 2018 4:52 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Inaugural Obama Foundation Scholars Visit Sag Harbor Library To Talk International Non-Profit Work

Ken Dorph speaking at the John Jermain Memorial Library in Sag Harbor while hosting scholars from the Obama Foundation. JON WINKLER
Oct 22, 2018 5:07 PM

In June, 12 people from around the world were chosen as the first class of Obama Foundation Scholars, set to attend Columbia University for a year to connect with distinguished academic leaders. As a brief weekend getaway from classes, five of the scholars stopped by the John Jermain Memorial Library in Sag Harbor on Saturday to chat with East End residents about the work they’ve done.

After taking a brief tour of the library, the scholars sat down for breakfast and a chat about their varied backgrounds.

Ana Maria Gonzalez-Forero of Colombia was joined by her two children, Rosario and Rodrigo, to talk about her work fighting for indigenous people’s property rights as chief sustainability officer for the Fundación por la Educación Multidimensional.

Hong Hoang of Vietnam is the founder and executive director of the Center of Hands-on Actions and Networking for Growth and Environment—or CHANGE for short—which encourages young people to promote environmental conservation.

Alice Barbe of France is the CEO and co-founder of Singa, which provides housing and societal opportunities for refugees.

Gabriela Galilea of Paraguay is the CEO and founder of Okimo Vision, which offers underprivileged citizens with impaired vision access to medical care.

Omezzine Khelifa of Tunisia is the founder and CEO of Mobdiun, which educates and motivates young people in Tunisia to become more politically active.

Ms. Khelifa is also friends with Ken Dorph, managing director of Sag Harbor Consulting, who organized the scholars’ visit to the library.

“Omezzine is a dear friend of mine. We work together,” Mr. Dorph said. “When I heard she had gotten this scholarship to come to New York, I said, ‘You have to come out to Sag Harbor.’ She came out Labor Day weekend, had a wonderful time, and I said, ‘Why don’t you bring some of the scholars out?’

“This is what my life is about—trying to get people to talk to each other from different sides of the world that we live in,” he added.

Ms. Khelifa said she was approached by the Obama Foundation earlier this year to apply to the inaugural group of scholars and spent the following months writing essays explaining her work and what she hoped to achieve with Mobdiun. The experience so far has been “hugely intense, informative and exciting,” she said, even though she first thought she’d never make the cut.

“I said, ‘I guess they sent this email to thousands of people around the world, so I’ll just be one drop in the ocean—but let me be that drop that adds something. Let me be as honest and as ambitious as possible,’” Ms. Khelifa said. “Now that I realize that ambition and vision that I feel deeply about has inspired the most popular living legend that’s ever been president of the United States, it’s pretty awesome.”

Ms. Khelifa explained that her work is at the intersection of security and development, specifically focused on young people in marginalized and disaffected areas of Tunisia becoming more socially, politically and economically involved. Working with kids ages 12 to 18, Mobdiun provides out-of-school education in culture and technology to help give them a voice to use in their country’s national discourse

“We believe that they have the answers to the questions they are asking,” Ms. Khelifa said. “They could be the peaceful leaders of the change in their communities.”

Ms. Galilea’s work has more personal experience attached to it as she was born with a condition called strabismus, which causes one’s eyes to be misaligned. After spending most of her adult life as a lawyer, she said she wanted to do something different in 2014, when she started Okimo Vision.

The startup’s current focus is an application for desktop computers that monitors eye movement to determine one’s reading skills, which is being offered to schools, companies and governments for pilot programs.

“You always come from your own experience at some point,” she said. “I said, ‘How is it any different today for people that have been diagnosed with this or any other visual condition?’ I found out that many people can’t access the diagnosis and treatment even in developed countries.”

As beneficial as the work the scholars are doing can be, it can also bring up heated debates between others. Ms. Barbe, for instance, deals in the hotly contested issue of refugees. Singa, which means “connection” in the Lingala language spoken in the Congo, not only connects refugees with host families for temporary housing but also looks to involve refugees in cultural activities connecting them with citizens.

With work in six countries, including France, Ms. Barbe said Singa is meant to work with refugees to “build society,” combining refugees with local citizens based on mutual interests and life goals. She added that Singa also sees economic opportunity in having refugees and locals working together to grow businesses.

Ms. Barbe said she is aware of the heated debate on immigration and refugees both in the United States and internationally, but her work is meant to show a new method of addressing the issue.

“It’s about stop thinking about us vs. them and trying to build the tools for a common us, so we can all be in the same boat and shape the future that we want,” Ms. Barbe said. “People who react with polarization about immigration—it’s not about saying a speech and teaching stuff. I would rather have a person experience encountering someone.”

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scholars= social liberals
By chief1 (2770), southampton on Oct 22, 18 9:48 PM
2 members liked this comment
chief1=antisocial regressive
By country joe (60), sag harbor on Oct 22, 18 10:29 PM
1 member liked this comment
What a waste of money. Obama did everything to divide this country , undermine our allies , destroy our economy and pay off Iran with a plane full of untraceable cash.
By patriot50 (42), sag harbor on Oct 22, 18 10:50 PM
2 members liked this comment
Oh is today opposite day?
By eagleeye (81), Sag Harbor on Oct 23, 18 12:00 PM
Regardless of your political leanings, these leaders have put a lot of effort into bettering their communities, which should always be celebrated! Best of luck to them and I hope they enjoyed their time on the East End.
By SRamunno (1), Water Mill on Oct 23, 18 10:19 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By J. Totta (106), Sag Harbor on Oct 23, 18 10:38 AM
That sounds like a legitimate website.
By Fred s (3029), Southampton on Oct 23, 18 10:52 AM
1 member liked this comment
Fred S. Look it up don't be so ignorant! Shows all the gun violence...afraid of truth??????
By J. Totta (106), Sag Harbor on Oct 23, 18 11:14 AM
What ?????
By knitter (1865), Southampton on Oct 23, 18 10:34 AM
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