Globetrotting Shimer Professor
Shimer professor Steven Werlin has spent much of the summer in Asia, making separate trips to Bangladesh and Jordan.
Steven went to Bangladesh in May to spend four weeks studying a program designed to address extreme poverty. BRAC’s Targeting the Ultra Poor, or TUP, program takes families living on the brink of starvation and, over the course of two years, helps the women who lead them create and grow sustainable livelihoods. He’ll bring that experience to Fonkoze, his partner in Haiti, where he will serve as a field manager for a team of caseworkers who will serve 250 Haitian women and their families.
These families are among the poorest in the world. Most own no land, no saleable or income-generating assets whatsoever. The men and women who lead them supplement the food they harvest as sharecroppers with farm work that pays less than a dollar per day. They often go a day or more without being able to prepare a single meal for themselves and their children. Fonkoze provides them with the training they need to develop an activity, but also gives them the necessary assets and intense follow-up support for 18 months. The initial pilot in Haiti was promising. 142 of 150 families graduated to financial independence. But now the program is scaling up to serve over 1000 families.
Steven has been splitting his time between Shimer and Haiti since he came to Shimer in 1996, but has spent much of the last five years there working with partners who are looking for ways to make group discussions a more central part of what they do. Since March 2009, he has been working fulltime with Fonkoze, which is Haiti’s largest microfinance institution.
In Jordan, Steven (photo left) was part of a team, together with Dan Sullivan, Shimer class of ‘95 (photo right). The team was teaching Jordanian teachers to lead discussions using the Touchstones process. The Touchstones Discussion Project uses a range of individual, small group, and large-group activities about short, carefully selected texts to help groups in many different environments learn to work together. Touchstones is used in various forms in primary, secondary, and post-secondary schools, prisons, corporations and other situations.
The team led six workshops that were organized by the Ministry of Education. More than six hundred teachers participated in all. The goal is to make Touchstones, and thus the discussion of texts that is the cornerstone of a Shimerian education, a central part of all Arabic classes in Jordan.