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Students earn national award for conflict resolution project

April 23, 2021
Two side-by-side portraits, one of Mohammed Bah, the other of Miguel Yakouma outdoors.(l to r) Mohammed Bah ’23 and Miguel Yakouma ’23 have received a Davis Projects for Peace grant to run a program in Central African Republic aimed at diffusing a religious civil war. (University of Rochester photos / J. Adam Fenster)

Mohammed Bah ’23 and Miguel Yakouma ’23 will run a program in Central African Republic aimed at defusing a religious civil war.

Two University of Rochester sophomores have received a Davis Projects for Peace grant for a project in Africa that seeks to restore social bonds between warring religious groups.

Mohammed Bah ’23 is an international relations major from Monrovia, Liberia, and Miguel Yakouma ’23 is a biomedical engineering major from Bangui, Central African Republic. Their project is titled “The US-Bangui Peace Project: Building Peace through Capacity Development and Community Leadership.” Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the project will be conducted remotely via Zoom for three weeks in June.

It was one of 125 projects selected, with each being awarded $10,000 for implementation this summer. Bah and Yakouma were nominated by the University’s Students Fellowships Office. Created by philanthropist Kathryn W. Davis on her 100th birthday in 2007, the organization selects young people who have developed initiatives to bring new thinking to the prospects of peace in the world. Undergraduates at US colleges and universities are selected to design grassroots projects to be implemented anywhere in the world during the summer.

“In the Central African Republic, there is a huge religious civil war between Muslim and Christian communities,” Bah says. “They are targeting people who are not from their religion—slaughtering, raping, and torturing them. This project aspires to provide an avenue that will help bring an end to this conflict.”

Bah and Yakouma will speak to 50 people from both religious communities, ages 15 to 25, in the capital city of Bangui. Participants will share their experiences and discuss the negative effects of war while taking part in activities that include a restorative justice forum, workshops on conflict resolution, and a dialogue with prominent religious leaders.

“The activities are centered around peace, with an emphasis on entrepreneurial leadership,” Yakouma says.

The Zoom discussions will run for two weeks, followed by spots on Central African Republic television and radio stations, where participants will share their experiences.

Update on 2020 Projects for Peace grant recipients

Dokata Banchale ’22 and Cherno Diallo ’22, whose 2020 Davis Projects for Peace grant was postponed due to the pandemic, will also carry out their project remotely this summer. “Breaking Tribal Barriers through Sports” is aimed at raising youth awareness of conflict resolution through a peace-building curriculum and volleyball tournament, to be held the first week of August. Its focus is on Marsabit County, Kenya, along the border of Ethiopia, where an intertribal conflict over pasture land and water persists.

“We have a team on the ground to implement the project while we monitor remotely from Rochester,” Banchale says. “We are excited to finally execute this project.”

Rochester has been a participant in the Davis Projects for Peace program since 2012. All Rochester undergraduates are eligible to apply for the grant. Proposals are reviewed by a campus committee in early winter of each year.

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