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STAFF MEMBERS

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ARKHAWAN SALIH

Assessment and Special Projects Specialist, arkhawans@refugeefora.org

Arkhawan Salih was born and grew up in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, then she immigrated with her family to the United States around a decade ago. She studied her Bachelor's degree in Law and Politics in Kurdistan. In Chicago, she gained a Master's degree in International Relations and Public Policy, and studied Data Science and visualization from Northwestern University. Both in Kurdistan and the United States, Arkhawan has worked in many national and international non-profit organizations on education and training, project management, human rights advocacy, refugee and immigrant rights and resettlement,  and legal/social justice programs. When she is out of work, she enjoys being a mother to two kids and watching them grow, hiking and camping with family and friends, and national and international traveling. In Chicago, she enjoys music symphonies, art exhibits and seasonal festivals and learning about the city and the country's historical sites and life. 

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CLAIRE HOLBA

Community Relations Coordinator, claireh@refugeefora.org

In August of 2018 Claire found home deep in the jungles of Thailand as a teacher in Mae Ra Moe refugee camp with survivors of conflict and persecution in Burma. She is forever indebted to the radical hospitality of the people of Burma who welcomed her in. Since living and teaching at Mae Ra Moe, Claire has committed her personal and professional life to finding solutions with and alongside members of the Burma communities as well as other survivor communities of conflict and displacement. Education, and the hope placed on it as a pathway forward, is one of the places she finds herself continuously drawn to on this journey. She has been to Karen State as a guest of the Karen people, working with local leadership on educational reform and development amidst an ongoing civil war. She is currently the Board President of Hope for Tomorrow, a 501c3 charity building bridges of understanding between the Chin and other Burma diaspora communities and the American community through education, mentorship, and civic engagement. Committed to both grassroots and top-down solutions involving holistic reform and conflict resolution, Claire was a visiting scholar at the Center for Constitutional Democracy. There, she worked with the various Burma state committees on processes of constitutional design and reform during the transition to a federal system. Now, Claire is deepening her understanding of the complex challenges within the global refugee support infrastructure, through her graduate studies in DePaul University’s MA in Refugee and Forced Migration. 

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DAVID MCKENZIE

Chief Administrative Officer, david@refugeefora.org

David McKenzie grew up in California and moved to Chicago more than 20 years ago. Possibly the only person who really loves the weather here, he enjoys taking long walks around the city, even when most people would much rather be indoors. David would like to spend more time at the Art Institute of Chicago and in Millennium Park, but he's pretty happy living in Logan Square because there are trees everywhere. He has a law degree and a degree in Chinese Studies. He has done a lot of different things over the years, from computer programming to sculpting, and spent many years running his own small manufacturing business, but he always says that FORA is by far the best and most rewarding work he's ever done.

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KATHLEEN O'CONNOR

Educational Programs Director (Volunteer), kathleen@refugeefora.org

Kathleen O'Connor has spent her entire adult life teaching in diverse educational settings. She graduated magna cum laude from Amherst College with a degree in History. Afterwards she taught math in the Washington D.C. public schools, before earning a Masters’ in Education from Harvard University. She went on to earn a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from Vanderbilt University where she worked developing math curricula and teaching both under-privileged middle school students and Vanderbilt undergraduates. She was awarded the Provost Fellowship in Educational Technology and the prestigious Master Teacher fellowship, which she used to study equity in undergraduate teaching. Upon graduation, she was awarded the Jules Seaman Award for scholastic, personal and professional achievement, and the Tennessee State Volunteer Award, recognizing her work with students from low-income families. She then moved to Madagascar where she worked as a volunteer English teacher with Malagasy orphans and as a full-time math and science teacher at the American School of Antananarivo. She later worked as an educational consultant in Belgrade and spent several years as an assistant professor of psychology at Dominican University, where the majority of her students were first generation college students.

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KEVIN KLEIN CARDEÑA

Director of Volunteer Engagement and Pedagogical Support, kevin@refugeefora.org

Kevin Klein Cardeña has lived in Chicago since his family immigrated from Mexico City when he was a child. He has a B.S. in Mathematics from DePaul University (minors in Psychology, Philosophy & Spanish) and is drawn to critical and affective/relational approaches in education and beyond. He likes local organizing and is interested in movements and social thought.

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LAUREN KEARNS

Chief of Staff and Chief Outreach Officer, laurenk@refugeefora.org

Lauren Kearns grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia and graduated with honors from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada with a bachelor's degree in International Relations and English. Before joining FORA, she had worked as a communications fellow for a congressional campaign, an intern for a local refugee aid nonprofit, a Youth Ambassador representing the US State Department for a year in Berlin, a summer camp counselor, and an instructor of ESL in a variety of settings. As her greatest passion is providing education and literacy as means of empowerment in under-resourced communities, she feels incredibly fortunate to be part of an organization where she can pursue this every day. In her free time, Lauren most enjoys reading historical fiction, walking in nature, practicing languages, and meticulously planning her future travels, as she is an avid backpacker.

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MICHAEL O'CONNOR

Managing Director, michael@refugeefora.org

Michael O'Connor attended Amherst College and Harvard Law School, where he was President of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. While in school, he worked for Cesar Chavez and the U.F.W, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the Southern Center for Human Rights, D.C. Public Defender Service, and the United States Department of Justice, Office of Policy Development. In the mid-to-late ’90s, he was a Senior Trial Attorney for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice and an Associate Counsel to the President of the United States at the White House. He then was an international field worker for Catholic Relief Services in war-torn Madagascar and Kosovo and then served as Regional Director for South Asia for International Justice Mission, in which capacity he testified to a U.S. House of Representatives’ committee on issues of international human trafficking. Since 2007, he has been a portfolio manager in the financial industry.

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SIMRAN ARORA

Family-School Partnership Program Coordinator, simrana@refugeefora.org

Simran Arora (she/her) grew up in New Delhi, India, and moved to the United States for her undergraduate studies at Claremont McKenna College, majoring in Psychology.  She has taught in classrooms in multicultural classrooms in India, Indonesia, Denmark, and the United States. She aims to create a meaningful impact on the lives of children around the globe. She finds working with communities extremely fulfilling and feels strongly about women’s rights, multiculturalism, and mental health. After work you can find her painting, cooking, meditating, doing yoga, or exploring Chicago - her new home!

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SUWAIBA OSMAN

Chief Operations Officer, suwaibao@refugeefora.org

Suwaiba Osman was born and raised in the US as a first-generation daughter of Bengali immigrants. Her formal education ended at the age of ten and only continued when she entered college as an adult with a GED. After completing a degree in Applied Science, she entered the FORA workforce with the passion to assist other disadvantaged individuals attain literacy, grade-level proficiency, and pursue a path to higher education. She believes in contributing to a world that is kinder, brighter, and equal in its compassion for people regardless of their race or background. She also dreams of the day cat owners will finally be appreciated by their pets. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing, and gaming.