University of Rochester

Rochester Student Aims to Give "Voices of Hope" to Young Refugees

July 15, 2013

Sophomore Fatima Bawany Organizes Outreach Program at Mary's Place

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 is launching a summer enrichment program with Mary's Place Refugee Outreach and the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence. The three-part project, which includes a retreat focused on leadership development, a photography project called a View of Hope, and workshops on educational opportunities after high school, runs from Monday, July 15 through Saturday, Aug. 10.

The first part of Bawany's project, "Voices of Hope: Empowering the Next Generation of Refugees," includes a five-day retreat for up to 25 high school and college-age youth associated with Mary's Place and other refugee communities in the area. Through interactive workshops developed in partnership with the Gandhi Institute, participants will learn about essential leadership skills such as communication, conflict resolution, and collaboration. Partners also will work with youth to identify ways they can contribute to their community through service and organize two projects carried out by the youth.

The second part of Bawany's program was inspired by a documentary that followed children as they took photographs of their daily lives. Bawany will provide each participant with a disposable camera to capture anything during the project that inspires them or gives them hope. At the end of the project, "A View of Hope" gallery and reception will underscore community support for the refugee youth and allow these young people to express their ideas creatively. "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 is organizing a weeklong college fair for the group, which rounds out the third part of her Davis Peace Project. Students will visit local colleges, meet college representatives, and develop communication skills, such as essay writing and public speaking. She has also created 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.

"The project's 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 students with tools to succeed.

The following activities are open to media:

Leadership Retreat Conclusion, "Soccer for Peace" Game
Friday, July 19, 3:30 to 5 p.m., M.K. Gandhi Institute (929 S. Plymouth Ave.)
Participants will conclude the five-day leadership retreat by writing messages to each other. They also will play a game called "Soccer for Peace," an alternative soccer game in which the rules center on promoting gender equality, collaboration, and community rather than competition.

Community Service Project at Gandhi Institute
Saturday, July 20, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., M.K. Gandhi Institute (929 S. Plymouth Ave.) Participants will plant flowers along the Genesee River and discuss why it is important to care for the environment. The students will plant from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and picnic from 1 to 3 p.m.

Community Service Project at Mary's Place
Saturday, July 27, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Mary's Place Outreach (414 Lexington Ave)
Participants will construct a piece of art that promotes understanding and acceptance, or help maintain a garden for Nepali refugees.

A View of Hope Gala
Saturday, August 10, 1 to 4 p.m., M.K. Gandhi Institute (929 S. Plymouth Ave.)
A gala at the Gandhi Institute will showcase the students' work and raise awareness about the refugee population in the Rochester area. Students will receive certificates, display their photographs from A View of Hope, and perform cultural songs. This event is open to the public and will be business casual.

Members of the media wishing to schedule interviews or photo opportunities should call Fatima Bawany at 585.465.3568 or email