Peace Projects Given a ChanceGAMBIER, Ohio (May 7, 2009) No mountain is too steep for Kenyon students when it comes to working with children in Projects for Peace.
The Davis Projects for Peace organization has announced that two initiatives proposed by Kenyon students won $10,000 grants for hands-on community service that will send them to the Sayan Mountains in Buryatia and the Sierra Madre mountains in Guatemala.
Matt Innes '11 of Collegeville, Pennsylvania; Vito Mantese '09 of Columbia, Illinois; and Riley Witte '09 of Fairbanks, Alaska, will spend six weeks in Buryatia, a Russian republic in eastern Siberia. They will work with the children of alcoholics and drug addicts at the Rehabilitation Center for Minors in the village of Sayan.
Hannah Ahern '09 of New York City and Nicole La Fetra '09 of Sunnyvale, California, will spend four weeks in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, working as teachers of indigenous children and helping to build a house for a needy family.
Russia is becoming familiar turf to Witte, who has visited the country three times and, after her work on the peace project, will return again to teach on a Fulbright fellowship. The Russian and English major spent part of her junior year in St. Petersburg and Irkutsk. Anthropology study in Irkutsk led her to Buryatia and the Rehabilitation Center for Minors, where she did some volunteer work.
"They don't have very much - a roof over their head," Witte said of the children. "Our goal is just to try to enrich their lives however we can with creativity and intercultural stuff. We want to let them know that someone cares." Each traveler will bring a portable Singer sewing machine and a laptop computer (Acer Aspire One Netbook), and those will be left behind after the Kenyon contingent provides lessons in sewing and the use of educational software in English and Russian. The center has no computers and these "beautiful little machines are perfect for little hands," she said.
"It will make a difference."
Witte is also a student of Chinese and is considering graduate school in China after her Fulbright experience. She may pursue a career that connects Russia, China and Alaska "in a new paradigm for the East and in building connections between the different countries." Some of the credit for Witte's interest in Russian and Chinese belongs to Natalia Olshanskaya, associate professor of Russian and "a very motivating woman."
Mantese has done volunteer work with orphans in Mongolia and works for the Library and Information Services Computer Helpline. Innis hopes to follow up his summer work with a spring semester next year in Irkutsk.
Ahern visited Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, in 2007 with Habitat for Humanity International and helped build houses for three impoverished K'iche Maya families. The K'iche Maya are among 1.5 million people displaced by violence in Guatemala more than twenty years ago and still suffering from the loss of land and violence to family members.
Ahern and La Fetra will work with two Guatemalan community-service outfits, one with an emphasis on education and one that will help with construction of a home for a local family. Any money left over from the purchase of school supplies and construction material will be donated to a women's bakery collective.
The Kenyon proposal includes a promise to report on their activities when they return "at schools and institutions" to stimulate awareness about the history of violence in Guatemala and its effect on people there.
La Fetra is an anthropology major who has done volunteer work in Costa Rica and at Kenyon. "We'll help out with whatever they want us to teach," La Ferta said. "And we'll try to find a family that is most in need and build a house for them."
Volunteering is second nature to La Ferta. "It's always been important to me," she said. "It makes me feel good and gives me a sense of accomplishment."
Her time at Kenyon has sparked interest in forensic nursing. "I've met some amazing people here who have taught me a lot about reaching out and grabbing the opportunities I want," she said. "Wanting to become a forensic nurse was not anything like what I thought I could do, what I thought I could be good at. So, Kenyon has really just opened my eyes."
The Davis Projects for Peace initiative is part of the non-profit Davis United World College Scholars Program, based in Middlebury, Vermont. The program has awarded one-hundred $10,000 grants this year, funding peace projects proposed by eighty-nine colleges.
Philip O. Geier, executive director of the Davis scholars program, said the competition was keen. Philanthropist Kathryn Davis, who is 102, said, "I want to use my birthday to once again help young people launch some initiatives that will bring new energy and ideas to the prospects of peace in the world."