SIT trains Ford fellows

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(Host) Brattleboro’s School for International Training originated to train the first Peace Corps volunteers in the early 1960s. Recently the Ford Foundation asked the school to work with a new generation of idealists.

They come from some of the world’s poorest countries, as VPR’s Susan Keese reports.

(Keese) The emerging leaders in the Ford Foundation’s International Fellowship Program weren’t groomed from birth for power. Most are from groups that are disempowered in their own countries.

Sandeep Kindo is from one of India’s indigenous minorities. He beat the odds for someone of his ethnic origins, and became a lawyer and an advocate for the rights of tribal peoples.

(Kindo) “And the Ford Foundation thought that I had some potential, you know of making some difference.”

(Keese) As a Ford Fellow, Kindo has earned a Master’s in International Law at Notre Dame. He was one of 60 Ford Fellows at a picnic sponsored by the School for International training last week. The gathering was part of a six-day leadership institute organized for the Ford fellows by the school.

The International Fellowship Program is the biggest grant in the Ford Foundation’s history. Over 10 years it will spend $280 million on advanced training for promising individuals from 22 countries.

Susan Berresford is the Foundation’s president. She says the program seeks out people who have overcome hardships to make a difference in a wide variety of fields.

(Berresford) “The question now is whether that reservoir of talent and persistence and idealism and effort is going to be harnessed for the good of the country and for the good of the world in the future. And we think this program will make a contribution towards that.”

(Keese) Thi Minh Ha Nguyen, works with women from the ata-oi, a Vietnamese hill tribe. The use of chemical defoliants in the war forced them to move deep into the forest. The women speak only their native language. They live in isolation, practicing slash and burn agriculture while the men earn cash in the villages.

(Nguyen) “In ethnic minority, the men keep the money and if the women can pick up some forest products or some of the garden products they give it to the men. And the men go out to the market to sell it.”

(Keese) But the money doesn’t always come home, Nguyen says. She’s been helping the women market their weaving in Hanoi, and teaching them to manage their cash.

(Nguyen) “I help them to empower, and get access to health services and education services. And then we invite them to public meeting, we encourage them to speak.”

(Keese) Nguyen is using her fellowship to earn a Master’s in clinical social work at Columbia.

The Foundation hopes the fellows will form a network to work together on international problems. To make that happen, it’s commissioned the School for International Training. The school will sponsor four or five institutes a year in different countries to bring together Ford Fellows.

The fellows are in graduate schools all over the world. The weeklong institutes will be a chance to exchange ideas and develop friendships the foundation hopes will last far into the future.

One of the program’s early graduates is Naa Lamle Lamptey of Ghana. She’s been studying international law at Harvard. She also spent time working with asylum seekers in New York. She’s heading home, with high hopes:

(Lamptey) “We can’t change the whole world but we can brighten our corners. And as many corners as our light hits there then becomes a flame and the flame becomes a fire, and things do change.”

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese in Brattleboro.

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