Meet Our Local Heroes
Local heroes are the heart of GRACE Cares work. These leaders are from or live in the communities that they support. They understand the needs and are able to envision solutions that are in alignment with their communities. GRACE Cares supports these heroes in creating and growing local organizations utilizing their unique resources.
Afshan is a graduate of McGill University, currently working in marketing at Aavrani in New York City. The Lucknow Project initiative was started by her mother, Seema Holder, and sister, Nazeela Nasseri, as a continuation and expansion of aid to their ancestral village on the outskirts of Lucknow, India. Afshan began teaching at 15, creating an intern program which brought youth from around the world to help teach for weeks at a time. Being involved with GRACE Cares has helped her gain a grounded understanding of the world and more importantly an understanding of the importance of local contexts in development.
Wilfred was born on January 5, 1990, in the town of San Juan Comalapa, Chimaltenango, Guatemala, and is of Maya Kaqchikel ancestry.
His father was a humble agricultural worker of strong integrity and his mother was known for her strong leadership in support of women. Wilfred is the second child of three siblings. He grew up with his sisters in a home of simple means but within an environment of strong unity and full of love. Thanks to the sacrifice of his parents, he was able to develop himself through primary and secondary school and some university-level education. He currently lives with his wife and two children, for whose well-being he strives daily.
Since childhood, he has faced the daily hardships which are a common reality for many Guatemalan families. Because of the lessons imparted by his grandfather and his mother, both known as strong leadership figures in their communities, he has taken up the mission of following in their footsteps to plant seeds of change in the field of community development. According to his abilities and the means within his reach, he has worked since adolescence to support families of limited means, groups of women and couples in natural family planning lessons. Currently he is the director of GuateBuena, which he leads with the support of founder Andrew Becker and GRACECares.
Blessed is from Zambia, where he worked in HIV prevention programs and there he met and married Libby Bennett a Peace Corp Volunteer from Brattleboro. Blessed moved to VT in 2008 and is now a District Epidemiologist for the state of VT. Ever since he came here he wanted to help his community back in Zambia.
The urban areas of Chongwe and (downtown) Lusaka are critical sub-towns populated by low income families with difficulties meeting most standards of living, such as education, housing, and food. For this reason, the MYEP’s Mobile Book Program and instructor-led Literacy Sessions are essential for the development of children in the city’s community. They provide an opportunity to read in a safe, interactive atmosphere, play games, and tell stories together. Helping children succeed, both in school, and professionally, drives Blessed to develop new assistance programs for his community. The MYEP provides components for growth and creates an opportunity for children to learn. The parents benefit too. They gain hope and confidence for a better tomorrow by attending reading and play time sessions with their children. They also learn nutrition and sanitation in the kitchen during cookery classes.
Jefferson Guyo Badiva was born and raised in the heart of the Galana area in Kenya. He comes from the Watha community, a Cushitic people living in the semi-arid Galana region of south-eastern Kenya. Guyo plays an important role in the community and is very keen to work with local agencies for the betterment of his people. He was fortunate to enroll in university in 2015 and is pursuing a Bachelor’s of Law in Nairobi. Guyo’s aim is to use his law education to help his people gain official recognition as an ethnic group in the eyes of the Kenyan government to preserve, develop, and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories and their ethnic identity as the basis of their continued existence as a people. The Watha community is truly excited to collaborate with GRACE Cares in relation to work on a water project with the intention of helping the community access clean drinking water and combat diseases such as cholera and typhoid as well as ward off crocodile attacks.
Marissa is currently based in Baitoa, Dominican Republic, where she is the Executive Director of Project Hearts, In this role, Marissa leads a team of locals who empower residents with education and practical knowledge, especially in regard to health and sanitation. As Project Hearts supports the community so they can transform their own neighborhoods, GRACE Cares supports the organization with technical guidance. For over 15 years Marissa has worked in nonprofit administration and is still passionate about bringing light to dark places and situations.
Dr. Namaya (MIA, MSN, D.Sci.) is a poet and artist who has worked in peace building and community development all of his adult life. He served in the Peace Corps in the mid-1970’s and then worked in Morocco with Catholic Relief Services in the 1980’s. He received his Master’s in International Development at the School for International Training. With his wife Zoe Kopp and nephew Kenneth Giancola he founded GRACE Cares in 2002. Namaya is the Director of the B4 Peace projects because of the importance of peace and social justice in every community. He has worked on B4 Peace projects worldwide, including Chile, the Dominican Republic, Palestine, Vietnam and the US.
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