Students win grants for peace projects
The Davis Projects for Peace program, which provides funding for students at U.S. American colleges to launch their own grassroots peace projects, recently announced two winners from the College: Jenny Chen '12 and Michael Hempel '11. They were each granted $10,000 for their individual projects, which will be completed this summer.
Chen proposed to use the Davis grant to empower middle school-aged immigrants in Washington DC, her hometown. As a high school senior, Chen and her younger brother established JJ Express, a nonprofit children's magazine that uses comics to teach youth about important social issues. Chen said that "the younger kids are when they are exposed to [these issues], the more active they will be with social change when they get older."
Chen was inspired to apply for the Davis grant by artists from all over the world who contribute to her magazine. "I realized how important it is to involve people from all different backgrounds [regarding social issues] because they all bring a different perspective to the solutions for the problem," she said.
Using the grant, Chen intends to create editorial boards composed of youth immigrants at her magazine, each of which will concentrate on different social issues. Editorial boards made up of seven to 10 students will be led by college-aged mentors who will undergo training at the end of May. Chen's project is set to launch in June, and each editorial panel will collaborate for two weeks.
Participants will be creating content for the fall issue of JJ Express, which will have a "superhero" theme. "We will take the material they produce from each of the editorial panels and select the [comics] that are most relevant and powerful to the issue," Chen said.
"America is a huge melting pot....But what's been found is that youth of immigrant origin are less likely to participate in volunteer activity--only nine percent of immigrant youth participate," she said. According to Chen, the problem is not that these minority students don't want to volunteer but that they are not asked to do so. "I wonder how much we're handicapping ourselves by not reaching out to these students who have so much to offer and want to help," she said. At the end of the summer, each panel participant will be asked "to identify an issue that they're particularly passionate about. [Then] a member of the Montgomery County Volunteer Center will match them up with a corresponding service project."
Chen requires the funding of the Davis grant because many resources are necessary to launch such a complex program. "We're offering all this [to participants] for free, but all the logistics of it--renting a room, finding [public] speakers, getting software--cost a lot of money," she said. With such a substantial grant, Chen intends to "really be able to throw everything into this project, which will only make it that much more of a success."
The Davis grant has few restrictions and encourages vast diversity among projects. For Hempel, this summer will be spent traveling to Germany and France for five weeks to film footage for a documentary that explores the "increasing level of alienation of immigrant youth in Europe." While abroad, Hempel will ask migrant students of different backgrounds "whether they feel like an isolated clique and whether they're somehow seen as foreigners despite their nativism to France or Germany."
Hempel was drawn to this project because, as a dual citizen of Canada and Germany, he can identify with the experiences of these immigrants. While in high school, Hempel conducted a similar project in Germany, although it only lasted two weeks, and he interviewed high schoolers rather than college-aged students.
"The overarching goal of this project," according to Hempel, "is to encourage integration. We need to find ways to avoid having parallel societies." Hempel stresses how important this is to Europe's future. "We [need to] solve this problem of integration now while these youth are still young, before they get too settled in their ways." Otherwise, the integration problem will continue to pass down through the generations.
Three other Colby students--Sulaiman Nasseri '12, Fazal Rashid '11 and Ahmed Asi '13--will be traveling and working with Hempel for this documentary. Although they are international students, "all three of them are very familiar with Western culture and ways of thinking...and they can share their experiences with the people they will meet," Hempel said.
Jeff Carpenter '12, president of the Tuesday Night Film Club, will be a crucial member of the documentary's production team when the group returns to the United States. "I hope to have this film finished before I graduate and send it back to the universities [of the students we interviewed]," Hempel said. He also intends to submit the 90-minute documentary to film festivals.
"This project runs far deeper than what we can achieve in five weeks," Hempel said. The Davis Projects for Peace was founded by Kathryn Wasserman Davis in February 2007. As a tribute to her one-hundredth birthday, Davis donated one million dollar for 100 grassroots summer projects each summer. The program receives applications from students at 90 different colleges and universities. After the summer, recipients are required to turn in reports of their experiences, which are published on the Davis website.