April 21, 2015

Two students awarded peace grants to improve communities in Africa and Asia

This March, two University of Chicago students were each awarded a $10,000 grant from Davis Projects for Peace to carry out projects aimed at achieving Davis’s mission of “finding solutions for resolving conflict and maintaining peace.” Sujata Singh, a first-year master’s student at the Harris School focusing on women and poverty studies, will travel to Alad, Nepal. She will work with the Computer Association of Nepal to install 10 computers in Alad’s Shree Bhairab Secondary School and train the school’s teachers and students in their use. Alex Ding, a first-year in the College, will travel to Pelel Kindessa, Senegal, where she will work with Pelel’s local leadership to construct a public garden and improve latrines.

Chicago Maroon (CM): What inspired you to create this proposal?

Sujata Singh (SS): I’m from Nepal so I wanted to do something back home in my country. My dad is originally from [Alad], so he went back home and a few years ago he went to the school and talked to the principal who told him how they wanted computers for their students. They have solar panels already, so when I heard about the Davis grants…it was just like, they have this need and I have this opportunity. So I just wanted to follow this project.

Alex Ding (AD): After high school I did this program called Global Citizen Year. They basically take high school grads to developing countries, and place them with homestay families…. Towards the end of the year when I got a better hold of the language I started talking with the local women’s groups about the lack of gardens, all the reasons these gardens don’t exist, and the lack of security when it comes to health. There’s sickness coming from a lack of nutrient-rich food there so I used personal funds to get started…but there’s only so much you can do with the lack of capital.

CM: What goal do you hope to achieve with this project?

SS: In the cities in Nepal, technology is widespread but not in villages, so the goal of my project is to bring the technology to these villagers, but most importantly to give them skills—typing and working different programs and stuff like that. I’m going to try to install Internet, but there are a lot of things I don’t know yet that might not make that possible. But at least for now my goal is to focus on those tangible skills because I know I can accomplish them and that they can have a long-term impact.

AD: With the garden completed and the water sanitation and latrine improvements built, I hope that those will not only give the community members of Pelel greater health, but also through that I hope that this can be a means through which they gain a greater sense of control over their lives and really see themselves as agents of change in their own communities.

CM: Davis Projects for Peace aims to support projects that will build peace. How will your project work to build and sustain peace?

SS: I see peace as this need for development. Sustainable and long-lasting peace can only come when there’s development and growth in the villages as well as the cities, especially in villages like Alad where there’s no Internet and it’s so disconnected. I feel that because there was that growth missing from the village, this project will kind of encourage the students that they’re not forgotten and they’re still a part of this world, and hopefully they can be encouraged to give back to their society.

AD: This is something I struggled with when I was thinking through my proposal…. I wanted to tailor this project to best represent what the Davis Project represents, because a lot of the projects focus on traditional ways we understand peace. But I ended up thinking about this idea of community building. I thought about this political rally that happened in my village, and one of the presidents of the women’s groups was saying how, “In Pelel we really don’t have anything. Our men are jobless, the children are sick, but that’s just the life we’re living.” When I think about what I want this project to do, I want this to be a means by which the community members can sort of make this change in their lives. This is their project for them to see it happen and understand that they can control their lives.