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‘Twese for Peace’ Wins $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace Grant

By Jiya Pandya

Every year the Middlebury College Center for Social Entrepreneurship grants $10,000 to one student to develop a grassroots project for peace. The initiative, Davis Projects for Peace, was started in 2007 by Kathryn Davis, a renowned philanthropist who chose to celebrate her 100th birthday by donating $1 million “to help young people launch some immediate initiatives that will bring new thinking to the prospects of peace in the world,” according the Project’s website. The Davis Projects for Peace are available to the 91 schools that have partnered with the Davis UWC Scholars program and Middlebury is the Projects’ headquarters.

The College has had a variety of projects submitted and undertaken since 2007; this year, 13 students applied for the grant for the summer of 2014. Proposals were submitted by late January, and were discussed by a seven person committee consisting of executives from the Centre for Social Entrepreneurship (CSE), the Community Engagement (CE) office, noted alumni of the College and professionals that have a history of working with the Davis family.

Elizabeth Robinson ’84, director of the Projects on Creativity and Innovation in the liberal arts (PCI), was one member of this panel.

“Davis Projects for Peace gives students the opportunity to try their hand at social entrepreneurship and to practice what you’re learning in the classroom,” she said. The proposals, Robinson explained, are judged on a set of four criteria: creativity, impact, sustainability and humility. Each project is given a score from one to five on each criterion by each of the members of the committee, and then total scores are compared. The highest rated proposal  is selected as College’s entry into the Davis Projects for Peace for that given year.

But having your proposal selected is not the end of the road.

“The reason we identify and select to projects early is because we want to work with the projects and develop them over spring,” Robinson said. Once selected, the proposed project and the student in charge of it are put through a process of mentorship and discussion, in order to make the project better.

This year’s recipient is Armel Nibasumba ’16, with his project ‘Twese For Peace National Camp’, set in his home country, Burundi. The project aims to convene students of conflicting ethnicities from across Burundi between the ages of 17 and 23 for two weeks, and help them nurture their peace-building, conflict resolution and entrepreneurial skills.

As he explained his project over a cup of hot Burundian tea, Nibasumba’s passion for his country, its history and his need to make a positive change was more than evident.

“There is much more than war in Burundi, and if we want to define where the country is going to be in 15 years, we need to act now. This is my way of playing a role in the future of my country, of creating a better Burundi for my children than the one I grew up in, “ he said.
In the grander global scheme, Nibasumba added, Burundi is either forgotten or labelled as conflict-ridden and torn.

“I wanted to show that we are not a pity-case, we have young people that have ideas and we can change things.”

Nibasumba applied last year for the Davis Project for Peace grant, and did not receive it, but chose to begin his project anyway, albeit to a smaller extent in his city, Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. He applied again for the grant this year and was selected.

“I saw that my project had a big impact last year,” Nibasumba said. “And I saw that the bigger picture was worth pursuing.” He hopes to expand his project and build on what he learned from last year, now that he has more funding due to the Davis grant. “The students I had last year motivated me; now I know I’m not the only one, and I want to keep striving to make a change.”

Nibasumba’s advice to students that did not receive the grant is simple.

“Don’t give up. This grant isn’t the only way to make things happen. Keep networking, contact organizations. There are so many opportunities on this campus that will help you make things happen,” he said, citing MiddStart, an online College crowd-funding campaign, as an example.

Robinson also vigorously emphasized that the Davis grant is only one of the many opportunities available through this campus. She stated that organizations like PCI and CSE have grants to “support student ideation” and encouraged students to “jump in and try.”

“A lot of the recipients of the Davis peace grant had applied once and not been accepted before they received it,” Robinson said. “It just takes a little time. You have to fail a little in order to learn, and these are projects that can be honed over time.”

Robinson cited multiple examples of passionate, inspiring students that have initiated Davis Projects for Peace, fondly calling them “superstars.” Shabana Basij-Rasikh ’11 did a Davis Project during her time at the College and went on to form her organization SOLA, School of Leadership, Afghanistan. Robinson also spoke about Rachel Sider ’14, who conducted her project in Jordan in 2013 called Empowering Voices Through Artistic Expression, and Jihad Hajjouji ’14 who did a project entitled The National Entrepreneurial Camp in Morocco in 2012.

Robinson further stressed that working with the CSE and CE on campus or applying for grants such as the Davis Projects for Peace is not restricted to students who are considering social entrepreneurship in the future.

“Not everybody wants to be a social entrepreneur, and that’s fine. We see these opportunities as a means for students to just be better at who they are and who they want to be,” she concluded.

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