Since she was a senior at Brighton High School, Fatima Bawany '15 has been looking for ways to inspire the young refugees with whom she volunteers. Now, thanks to a $10,000 grant from Davis Projects for Peace, the University of Rochester undergraduate will launch a summer enrichment program that includes a retreat focused on nonviolent communication education, a photography project called Voices of Hope, and a workshops on educational opportunities after high school.
Bawany was eligible for the Projects for Peace grant as a result of the University's recent acceptance into the Davis United World College Scholars Program. As a partner school, the University was able to nominate two proposals for the summer grant, which funds student-designed and student-led grassroots projects that promote peace and address the root causes of conflict among parties. Each year, 100 projects are funded, with at least one from each Davis school. In the inaugural competition at Rochester, nearly two dozen undergraduate students submitted nine individual and group projects set in a variety of countries across four continents; these were reviewed by a campus committee this past winter, and the applicants were interviewed before the top two proposals were selected for submission to the national competition.
Belinda Redden, director of Fellowships, began investigating the opportunity for Rochester students to earn Projects for Peace Fellowships in 2011. "I see it as part of my job to expand high-quality fellowship opportunities for our students," Redden said, recalling the many students who had come to see her in the past in search of funding to do projects similar to the kind of initiatives the peace grant was designed to support.
Redden said the Davis campus committee was immediately impressed with both Bawany and her project, noting her deep background in cross-cultural and youth-development work as well as her passionate commitment. "One aspect of this project that we especially liked is the focus on empowering the youth participants to propose their own actions and evaluate their peers' proposals to help improve cross-cultural understanding and cooperation in their communities," Redden explained. "Fatima is not interested in merely imparting knowledge but in facilitating the development of practical skills so these often marginalized youths can see themselves as agents of their own lives."
Bawany's project, "Voices of Hope: Empowering the Next Generation of Refugees," is her way of bringing together two agencies, Mary's Place Refugee Outreach and the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, which she has volunteered with for three years. The first part of her project includes a five-day retreat for up to 35 high school and college-age youth associated with Mary's Place, as well as members of Jefferson High School's Interact Club.
Through interactive workshops developed in partnership with the Gandhi Institute, participants will learn about different forms of violence, where they occur in the community, and how youth can respond to that violence through nonviolent communication and conflict resolution training. Partners also will work with youth to identify issues in the community that they feel are important. During this activity, students will draft action plans to improve those issues, and by participant vote, the two most promising plans will receive $300 each so that their plans can be implemented.
"Fatima's commitment to nonviolence and to bridging differences is extraordinary. Her interfaith efforts and work with Mary's Place and here at the Gandhi Institute attest to that," said Kit Miller, director of the Gandhi Institute. "At the same time, I know there are many young people in this community whose potential remains untapped. I hope and expect that this project will support other young leaders to step into their potential for leading change in the way that Fatima does."
Bawany agreed. "Many Rochester refugee youth find themselves having difficulty adjusting to life in America, and face peer pressure and bullying as they struggle to fit in," Bawany said. "But they have so much potential to be great leaders, and I think it's important to teach them another way to respond and deal with conflict in a positive way."
The second project was inspired by the documentary Born into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids, which followed children of women working in the red light district as they took photographs of their daily lives. Bawany plans to provide each youth with a disposable camera to capture anything that inspires them or gives them hope. At the end of two weeks, she hopes to host "A View of Hope" gallery and reception that will underscore community support for the youth. "By seeing such a high level of support, the students will gain confidence in their potential to succeed," she said.
Understanding the importance of college readiness, Bawany will organize a workshop on filling out college applications and writing personal essays. She also plans to create a handbook of resources that includes information on college fairs and visitation programs as well as vocational preparation workshops in the community. The handbook will be available to youth associated with Mary's Place.
"Through the project, the main message is: 'you can be a leader in your community,' that with the right resources and support, they can do something meaningful and create positive change," she explained, noting that one of the most valuable aspects of the project is in providing the youth with tools to succeed.
Bawany's Davis Project for Peace builds upon a long list of volunteer and interfaith work. Besides being a Gandhi Institute Service Fellow, the religion major and biology minor at Rochester is a member of the Muslim Students' Association, is a founding member of the Student Association for Interfaith Cooperation, and is a co-founder of the Global Citizenship Conference, a conference for youth held annually at Nazareth College. She has also been tutoring refugee children at Saint's Place since 2010 and was a Teen Council columnist and intern at the Democrat and Chronicle during high school. Now, she frequently contributes to the Democrat and Chronicle's Unite Rochester blog. A perennial Dean's List student, Bawany is a participant in the University's Early Medical Scholars (REMS) program and was given the Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony Award in the Humanities on admission to Rochester.
The Projects for Peace program was launched by author, philanthropist, and scholar Kathryn Wasserman Davis in 2007 to commemorate her 100th birthday. Since its founding, Projects for Peace has funded more than 700 projects in over 100 countries. Davis passed away on April 23, 2013, at the age of 106.