Student Bios

My name is Anna Taeko Casals Fernandez. I am 20 years old and currently a second year student at Soka University of America. I was born and raised in Sant Antoni de Vilamajor, a small town near Barcelona, Spain. I am interested International Relations, diplomacy, non-profit organizations, and sustainability. I am extremely fortunate to be selected to go to Buenos Aires to not only work with FOVISEE and WWB, but also to interact with low-income families to investigate firsthand the historical, socioeconomic, and environmental factors that have shaped their housing situation. This Learning Cluster will allow me not only to expand my knowledge and further my development in the field of sustainable housing and weatherization. My interest in sustainable housing stems from my last year in high school where I focused my two-year thesis on eco-sociedades, a group of people who decided to live in their community sustainably. As I had the opportunity to interview members of eco-sociedades from around the world, I realized their efforts to achieve weatherization. I believe that my experience in this Learning Cluster can be connected with my goal to promote a new social, cultural, and economic paradigm based on equality, sustainability, dialogue, and peace. 

Hello my name is Braxton Keo and I am currently a third year student at Soka University of America. I decided to participate in this learning cluster because I am interested in improving low income housing and also promoting sustainability in Latin America. Last year I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel to Brazil to study human development. While abroad, I was able to see firsthand how many people are dealing with the negative impacts of poverty. Seeing favelas built next to expensive high rises was a truly eye opening experience. In addition, I recently studied the political economy of Latin America and have gained a better understanding of the income disparity between the rich and the poor. Through this class I was able to research certain government and non-government programs that help reduce the income gap by improving the living standards of the low income families. The poor infrastructures of housing units in low income areas of Argentina are a great example of this income disparity. I hope that while in Argentina I am able to make a positive impact in the lives of the low income families by providing assistance improving the efficiency of their respective houses. From this experience I hope that I gain a better understanding of the lifestyles of these low income families and help make a positive impact in their lives.​

Hi! My name is Elissa Park and I am from Porter Ranch, CA. I am currently a second year student at Soka University of America, concentrating on Environmental Sciences. Due to my family background, I am extremely interested in Latin American studies and Spanish. Since I was a young girl, I was always interested in the wildlife; I particularly had an affinity for animals. I pursued this passion during high school when I had the opportunity to volunteer and intern in various organizations such as Heal the Bay and Pacific American Volunteer Association. I organized various petitions and helped students coordinate beach and river clean-ups. This leaned more to wildlife conservation and environmental preservation, though I still participated in social-movements and petitions that helped animals that are close to becoming endangered. I am interested in sustainability and hope that my background could benefit others to learn more about these issues that surround all communities. The housing industry plays an important role in keeping the environment pristine due to the possible waste produced. It is important to build homes that are sustainable for the people that reside in the homes and for the exterior effects. I hope to expand my knowledge in the field. I wish to grow as a individual through first-hand learning and interacting with the environment.​

My name is Jaroslav Zapletal, I am a second-year student at Soka University of America and I was born and raised in the Czech Republic. Growing up in the era of the country’s transition to a market economy, it was then when I had the chance to observe my parents’ entrepreneurial effort in the brand-new economic environment. Consequently, my interest in the Czech Republic’s as well as European economy, and later on political economy grew stronger. This somehow brought me to the field of Euro-Asian relations. After coming to the United States for college, my horizons broadened even more and I naturally started looking at political economy holistically. Other than (unconventional) economics (and especially philosophy of economics, financial markets and real estate), politics and philosophy, my other interests include the Chinese language and culture. This course relates to my interest in real estate markets and I am confident it will provide me with a different new perspective of an area of the real estate business. I am currently working as a research assistant for the Pacific Basin Research Center by Soka University, which allows me to get an insight into the practical side of some of the fields of my interest, such as politics or economics as related to the countries of the Pacific Basin.​

Hello! My name is Joan M. Chica, and I was born in Colombia. I have been living in the United States since the beginning of my high school years. During my high school career, I was exposed to various branches of local and state government through internships, volunteer work, and government related classes. Due to the aforementioned exposure, I became interested in the city/regional management and planning side of government. At Soka University of America, I have pursued various Urban Planning related classes which have deepened my curiosity and interest towards the field. By participating in this Learning Cluster, I will strive to get a better understanding on the importance of weatherization as a means to achieve sustainable living. The Learning Cluster will also focus on sustainability in low income housing, which will greatly contribute towards my knowledge and experience in the area of housing within the Urban Planning sphere. 

Hello! My name is Kaori Tsuji. I am currently a junior at Soka University of America. I am really excited about visiting Argentina and learning about assessing the construction of the low-income housing in order to have a sustainable housing system because I just came back from a semester study abroad in Buenos Aires and got to explore the city which made me realize the gap between the social classes. Housing is the one of the most basic and important things in our lives, so I’m excited to help the community construct the better housing as a part of this learning cluster! Also, I have been interested in learning about the media, and in this class, we seem to film our work as a documentary, which makes it more interesting for me.

¡Hola! My name is MacKenzie Kermoade, and I’m a first year SUA student from Seattle, Washington. As a recent graduate of the Ocean Research College Academy, I am extremely passionate about environmental activism, and I’m currently transitioning into a zero-waste lifestyle. I also love learning languages! So far, I speak a little Spanish, Russian and French. My life goal is to establish a multi-lingual eco-tourism agency out of the Salish Sea, in order to promote environmental awareness within the United State’s Pacific Northwest region.

Hi! My name is Yoko Taguchi and I am a third year student at Soka University of America. living in Tokyo, I’m interested in the construction of sustainable buildings in an urban city which has high humidity. I expect to investigate the cultural, historical, socioeconomic and environmental difficulties and learn the approaches to the issues. I’m also interested in journalism, and I want to explore how we can make a documentary that successfully inform this project and actually call for action.​

Day 5, Campana

January 23, 2016

Photo by Braxton Keo

Above: our second day in Campana began with a debrief of yesterday’s energy auditing process. From the results we shared in the circle, we determined which projects would be most effective to conduct at each home.

Today at Jessica´s house, the weatherization team tackled two major issues: humidity and temperature. To combat the leakage on the northern wall, members of the team began to layer cement and stucco onto the exterior facade. Under the tutelage of more experienced workers, Soka students took turns flicking gobs of wet cerecita onto the brick surface and smoothing it up the wall with a flat-edged trowel. Although the learning curve was steep, we finally mastered the tricky maneuver by the end of the afternoon, thanks to the patience of our weatherization mentors. Meanwhile, inside the house, we began to construct the frame that would eventually house the anti-conductive fiberglass insulation. Metal rods were sized, cut, and then nailed in a grid formation to the corrugated tin roof. After the grid was complete, the fiberglass was stapled to a layer of protective drywall and inserted below the tin. During this process, standing beneath the insulation was measurably cooler than standing directly underneath the exposed tin roof. (According to Jessica, the exposed tin roof had previously cooked her family´s home upwards of 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer.)

Photo by Braxton Keo

At the same time, in Monica’s home, students and WWB volunteers began applying stucco to the cracks between the drywall pannels to create a smooth and water resistant roof that could be painted later.

When we left Jessica’s home, we felt confident about the tangible progress we´d made. We would save the final touches for completion on Monday with the visit of US Ambassador Noah B. Mamet.

– Written by MacKenzie Kermoade, Video by Braxton Keo

Day 6, Campana

Today – the last day we were supposed to spend working in Campana – provided us with an opportunity to finalize what we started. Plastering the walls, insulating the ceilings, adding more windows to let some more light in and improve the air circulation in the house – that is just a fine selection of all that we actually did. Physical work aside, we went head-on with the social aspect of this work. It is simply not enough to fix a house without ensuring the owners understand the importance of the act and the actions they take upon it themselves towards further improvement of the living conditions of their home.

However, that was not today’s highlight. What became an unforgettable memory for us was the visit the American ambassador paid us. We were in the middle of our regular workday when he ambassador, Mr. Noah Mamet, arrived. He, first, visited Jessica’s house, where we discussed the work we were doing: he inquired about the plastering and insulation, and later expressed his conviction of our work’s significance for the families and its overall importance for further advances in promoting sustainable housing, especially in regards to low-income families.

Photo by Braxton Keo

The ambassador then went on to visit Daniella’s house. Upon entering the home, he was not able to conceal his sincere concerns about the home’s health-and-safety environment. A few of us currently working in this house did not hesitate to explain to the ambassador what we were trying to accomplish inside of the home. Mr. Memet expressed his excitement about our work in here as well and proceeded to take a picture of the semi-finished front window with his personal cell phone, which communicated to us that he perceived our work as notably beneficial with apparent progress towards our goal including the visible positive change.

Photo by Braxton Keo

After we took a group photo with the workers from FOVISEE and Weatherizers Without Borders (WWB), the ambassador and Daniella’s family, Mr. Memet and everyone else moved over to the local kindergarten where ambassador Memet delivered a speech about the pivotal role of sustainability in our socio-economic outlooks for the future.

Overall it was an uplifting encounter, which happened to somehow increase the worth and importance we all saw in the work we were doing. The ambassador’s visit and kind words filled us with enthusiasm and made us vehemently try to finish what we started at all costs. To our disappointment, we were not able to do so on time as we lost a significant amount of time during the first day while still learning the skills necessary for conducting the fieldwork. However, it is definitely not off the table to say that we accomplished something of great importance (not only) for the families we worked with.

-Written by Jaroslav Zapletal

Day 7, Campana

January 27, 2016

Four team members returned to Campana to record more voices from the house owners for our documentary. After a weekend of reflection and consideration, the audio/visual team had generated more specific questions for the home owners,  and returned to the field to collect more detailed stories from the families as well as their reactions to this project.  Two of those students later visited Monica’s house and helped Paula sand the roof to facilitate the painting that would occur after stay. The sanding roof team finished one third of the whole ceiling and interacted amiably   with Monica’s family. Although we could stay in Campana only for three hours, we collected the materials necessary for our documentary and completed some difficult but fulfilling work.


This marked our final day of working in Campana, and I felt strange feelings when I was leaving the neighborhood. Either because we had just four members this time, or because I was feeling something similar to nostalgia, today’s Campana was quiet, and even serene. Also, I could stop feeling some kind of confusion of leaving there in the middle of the work. Who will finish sanding the ceiling? Who will recollect the garbage in Daniela’s garden after we left? Thinking about those things, I was overwhelmed by the necessity of enduring involvement of this project. Compared with the amount of effort and work by the volunteers in Campana, I feel that what I have done is too little to call as work. However, I have learned something from this three days of working in Campana. There must be something that I can do. On the way back to Buenos Ares, I have been wondering, what I can do, what I can do to continue working with the organization, the volunteers and the families?


-Written by Yoko Taguchi