The Collegian
Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Students change the world with $10,000 each

Two University of Richmond students received $10,000 each from Davis Projects for Peace and launched peace efforts in their home countries of Tanzania and Ethiopia this past summer.

The initiative, with an objective to encourage students to design and implement plans to build peace around the world, was established last year. Kathryn Wasserman Davis, mother of Shelby M.C. Davis, who funds the Davis United World College Scholars Program, chose to celebrate her 100th birthday by donating $1 million to 100 projects for peace.

"This opportunity is open to all undergraduate students here at the University of Richmond, including graduating seniors," said Krittika Onsanit, the primary campus contact for the grant. "I think it is a wonderful opportunity to obtain a substantial amount of funding for a project that will improve living conditions and make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged populations."

Onsanit said five proposals were submitted last year, and the Projects for Peace campus committee chose the two top proposals and one alternate to send to the foundation. She said no proposals have been submitted this year, but she has spoken to a few students who have shown interest.

A representative from the Davis Scholars Program wrote in an e-mail that the first 100 projects implemented last summer were "very successful in the sense that the proposals were good and the students went off and did what they said they were going to do. The real results won't be known for some time, but [we] are confident that building blocks for peace were put in place at many locations around the world."

Agatha Mushi, a junior from Tanzania, and Dereje Gudeta, a junior from Ethiopia, received the funding for the proposals they submitted last year. The students worked on their projects this past summer.

"The experience made me realize that I cannot change the world, which is frustrating," Mushi said. "I am glad I took the challenge, and I am happy that I have established something that I would like Richmond students to see and possibly volunteer there in the future."

Mushi said she knew a woman in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, who owned and operated an orphanage for children whose parents died of HIV/AIDS. She said this woman had dreamed of using the other half of her land to create some kind of HIV testing and treatment center, so Mushi used the funds to begin construction on a small hospital with a social hall where villagers could meet and discuss related issues.

She said she saw the completion of the first three rooms dedicated to counseling, testing and provision of medicine. The hospital continues to function without her, and she said she gets regular updates on its progress and success.

"I would definitely recommend other students apply for the grant, but be up for the challenge," Mushi said. "Be ready to cry because I did. Also, know that $10,000 seems like a lot, but once you start spending, it goes quickly."

Mushi said she was given one large check and had to handle the division and organization of the money on her own.

"One American dollar is about 1,200 Tanzanian shillings, so I was working with about 13 million Tanzanian shillings on this project, which is just ridiculous," Mushi said.

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Gudeta set up a six-week enlightenment program for 20 high school students, 10 Christians and 10 Muslims, in his home town of Kemissie, Ethiopia, in order to establish understanding and harmony between the two conflicting religious groups.

"I did this project because, in 2001, there were two violent clashes between the Christians and Muslims, and lives were lost," Gudeta said. "I was frustrated with the way the government handled the issue by deploying force. It was only temporary relief, and the violence continued and worsened when they left."

For the first two weeks, Gudeta bought supplies, recruited the students and spoke with various government officials and religious leaders who could help. During the following two weeks, Gudeta organized workshops comprising both lectures and discussions for the students to attend. The students traveled to Lalibella, a sacred Christian site, and Harar, a holy Islamic site during the fifth week and then used the last week as a reflection period, which encouraged the students to use art to explain their growth and experience.

"I was realistic about goals when I decided to do this," Gudeta said. "You cannot change people's attitudes overnight, but taking the first initiative is what is important to me."

Gudeta said the 20 students he worked with reported powerful, successful experiences during the final reflection period. He said it was also a challenging, yet fulfilling experience, and he would recommend other Richmond students apply for the grant.

"I would advise students to come up with something they feel very strongly about, and they shouldn't think they cannot do it no matter how challenging it is," Gudeta said. "At least they have to try, and they would learn something from the experience."

The deadline to apply for the $10,000 grant for a summer 2008 project is Jan. 28, 2008. More information about Davis Projects for Peace is available here.

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