Fridah Okomo standing on balcony with buildings and colorful evening sky in view (Courtesy of Fridah Okomo)
Fridah Okomo at a 2022 event in Washington to celebrate 40 years of accomplishments of the disability rights movement. (Courtesy of Fridah Okomo)

For Fridah Okomo of Kenya, democracy means advocating for vulnerable people by protecting their rights and including them in economic development.

But when she volunteered in a rural Kenyan community, she noticed how hearing disabilities limited some students’ education prospects. “I felt their struggles and committed to make a difference by advocating for their space and their rights,” Okomo told ShareAmerica.

Today she develops training for Kenyan educators and students to foster inclusion of students with disabilities.

Okomo honed her skills in the U.S. Department of State’s Community Engagement Exchange (CEE) program in 2022. The program brought 100 emerging community leaders from 69 countries, including Kenya and others across Africa, to work at U.S. nonprofits.

Over their three-month practicum experience, participants received leadership training to advance their work in their home communities.

Okomo worked with the American Association of Persons with Disabilities in Washington, where she mentored students with disabilities and volunteered for Reading Partners, a literacy organization.

“Promoting social inclusion in schools will deconstruct the stereotypes and prejudices placed on people with disabilities,” she said. “Education is an important aspect in advancing social inclusion, especially among young people.”

Disarming Russia’s disinformation in Estonia

Susanna Veevo standing by window with city and river view (Courtesy of Susanna Veevo)
As a CEE participant, Susanna Veevo of Estonia spent time in New York, where she met experts who help with her research on democracy. (Courtesy of Susanna Veevo)

Susanna Veevo said she appreciates democracy in her native Estonia and is taking the necessary steps to defend it.

She is working with a Harvard University team to research the effects of Russia’s disinformation efforts in Estonia. The team will deliver recommendations to the Estonian government and develop a curriculum for countering disinformation.

The CEE program introduced Veevo to a network of experts who have helped her with this research.

Veevo said that being surrounded by other aspiring leaders and mentors gave her valuable time for reflection on how she can improve her own abilities.

“The moment we are satisfied with the state of our democracy and finish working for it, it starts to decline,” she told ShareAmerica.

She noted that as Estonia is a young democracy, the nation can learn from the best practices of other democracies.

“Something I learned about both democracy and women’s rights was that this work never ends,” she said.