The Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies (REEES) and the Study Abroad Office (SAO) in collaboration with the Pittsburgh-based global service-learning organization Amizade propose to bring together community organizers and nonprofit leaders with University of Pittsburgh faculty and students for a public forum themed “Water Is Life." The thematic concentration on water reflects the contemporary significance of the topic, which invites inquiry from a regional and global perspective. Water is at the core of human and environmental existence. It underpins food and energy security, sustainable development, and healthy ecosystems while being the cornerstone for adaptation to climate change. Integral to sanitation, water is critical for reducing disease and enhancing the health, education, and economic resilience of communities. Water is also a human rights and social justice issue. As the global population grows, there is an increasing need to address structural inequalities that empower certain communities at the expense of others and privilege the growing commercial demand on water resources over social inclusion.
To explore regional and global challenges to water equity, the forum will connect University of Pittsburgh faculty and students with Amizade community organizers from Pittsburgh’s Hill District, the Pine Ridge Reservation (South Dakota), and Brazil’s Amazon region along with nonprofit leaders at the World Aral Region Charity that works in Uzbekistan’s Khorezm Region and the EcoSoap Bank, which focuses on improving sanitation and hygiene education in Subsaharan Africa and Southeast Asia. The forum will commence with initial introductions and will be followed by an open discussion structured with the help of pre-circulated questions, concluding with a Q&A with the audience.
John Stoner (Moderator) is the Executive Director for Academic Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for International Studies. Previously, he has served as the Director for Undergraduate Studies and Senior Lecturer at the Department of History teaching and researching in his fields of expertise, notably modern South Africa, twentieth century U.S. labor and foreign relations, and transnational history of the Cold War.
Keller Allen is the Assistant Director of the Pine Ridge Agricultural Initiative and is Amizade’s Site Director for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Keller is a father, husband, craftsman, massage therapist, yoga instructor, educator, community organizer and indigenous rights advocate with experience founding and managing cooperative businesses. Keller holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics, Astronomy and Mathematics from the College of Charleston and a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Dance/Movement Therapy from Antioch University New England. Keller and his family have lived and worked among their adopted Lakota family on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation since 2012.
James Cross is Council Representative to the Oglala Sioux Government at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
John Matthias Brown has been working in community development for the past 35 years. He is the founder of the 25-year old Petersfield Sports & Community Club (PSCC) which he served as President for the first 2 years. Three years later, he co-founded the old Association of Community Based Organizations Ltd (AOCBO), formerly Association of Clubs (AOC), which is the umbrella organization for seven community-based organizations in the parish of Westmoreland, Jamaica. Through Mr. Brown’s commitment, influence and guidance, the AOC won the 2007 and 2012 Michael Manley Award for Community Self Reliance which is one of the most prestigious awards in Jamaica. Mr. Brown also serves in his parish as a Justice of the Peace. He sits as Chairperson, Vice Chairperson and as Community Representative on numerous school boards and organization committees. He takes pleasure in counseling young people to help them boost their self-esteem and ways to work harder towards achieving their goals. As Amizade’s Site Director in Brazil since 2004, he has taken pleasure in guiding young people and has overseen service-learning placements in clean water initiatives, community building projects and youth education programs in Santarém city at the confluence of the Tapajós and Amazon Rivers.
Robert Denovich Willard currently pursues his Bachelor of Arts degree in Slavic Studies and Economics Columbia University. He also serves the President of the World Aral Region Charity, a non-for-profit organization working with communities in Central Asia against the devastating disappearance of the Aral Sea—the fourth largest land-bound body of water in the world, now 10% of its original size. With branches at Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania alongside those in Albany and Uzbekistan, the World Aral Region Charity aims to represent a new outlet for aid in a region often overlooked by the global community. In partnership with local towns and programs in the Khorezm region of Uzbekistan, the Charity works to address challenges to food security, public health, and economic and environmental sustainability.
Samir Lakhani is a social entrepreneur dedicated to restoring health and dignity to developing countries. Before founding Eco-Soap Bank in 2014, Samir was deeply involved in aquaculture and nutrition projects in northern Cambodian villages. He has also developed solar lighting solution projects in Cambodia, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Through his six years of nonprofit work in the areas of nutrition, water accessibility, and sanitation/hygiene, he has witnessed firsthand how delivering key products like soap transform the health and well-being of impoverished communities. Samir received a CNN Heroes Award for Eco-Soap Bank in 2017 and a Unilever Young Entrepreneurs award in 2018. He also recently gave a TEDx Talk. He is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and currently lives in Pittsburgh, PA.