Three Princeton student groups win Davis Projects for Peace

Three groups of Princeton University students each have been awarded $10,000 to travel this summer to Jordan, the Philippines and India, respectively, to implement their ideas for promoting peace through grants from the Davis Projects for Peace. The program awarded grants to students from universities across the country to pursue international endeavors during summer 2014.

Sophomores Wardah Bari and Farah Amjad will work on the project "Children's Playground: Fostering Peace Between Native and Refugee Communities" in Jordan; juniors Jacob Scheer and Miguel Lachanski will work on the project "Climate Change Hackathon: Combining Technology and Activism for Peace" in the Philippines; and sophomore Paarth Shah will work on the project "Shanti Dhaam: An Abode of Peace for the Deceased and the Living" in India.

The Davis Projects for Peace initiative was established by philanthropist Kathryn W. Davis in 2007, on the occasion of her 100th birthday. Davis, who died in 2013 at the age of 106, urged young people to "bring about a mindset of preparing for peace, instead of preparing for war." The Davis family has honored her legacy by continuing to fund Projects for Peace.

"We congratulate those students whose projects have been selected for funding in 2014," said Philip Geier, executive director of the Davis United World College Scholars Program, which administers the Projects for Peace. "We are pleased to once again help young people launch some initiatives that will bring new energy and ideas to improving the prospects for peace in the world."

The following describes the winning projects of the Princeton students.

Bari and Amjad will aim to ease tensions between local Jordanians and Syrian refugees in the developing city of Mafraq, Jordan, through the creation of a children's playground. It will allow Syrian and Jordanian children to share experiences and thoughts through creative expression, such as writing, photography and painting, fostering peace that will extend beyond the playground. The work the children produce will be compiled and showcased through a variety of outlets, including social media, a children's book and an art exhibition. The students will work with local aid organizations, such as Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development and Oxfam, to secure facilities and support.

"Since there is no definite end to the war (in Syria) in sight, it is important that Jordanian and Syrian refugees learn to live together in peace in Mafraq," the students wrote in their project proposal. "By helping the children of the two groups build close relationships, these children can then influence their friends, families and communities. … Dialogue between different communities in the refugee populations of Jordan will allow the people not only to find peace within themselves but also within their communities."

Scheer and Lachanski will organize the first 72-hour hackathon in the Philippines dedicated to mitigating and adapting to climate change. Hackathons are events in which teams of computer coders, developers and organizers compete to solve a problem by building a website or an app within a specified time period, usually one to three days. The project hopes to capitalize on the creative energies that hackathons engender to create new tools for dealing with climate change and natural disasters.

"Because hackathons emphasize the sharing of ideas, knowledge and tools for innovation, they directly contribute to peaceful and cooperative relations between peoples," the students wrote in their proposal for the project. "One of the most exciting aspects about hackathons is the unpredictability of the outcome. … There is a distinct possibility that our hackathon will produce a truly revolutionary application that will transform the way people think about climate change."

Angels for Angels, a nongovernmental organization, will provide logistical support for the project. SocialTagg, a startup company, will assist in hackathon administration while Crystal Lin of the World Extravaganza Arts Foundation will document the event. The hackathon will be hosted at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde.

Moved by an encounter with a grieving mother begging for money to cremate her son in the town of Deheri, India, Shah pledged to build a crematorium, a Shanti Dhaam. With no cremation facility, villagers must travel to the closest town more than three miles away. This situation has created a divide between poor villagers and the landowners, merchants and wealthier citizens who have the means to hire funeral services to have a body embalmed and transported for cremation.

This project aims to act as a peacemaker between the two groups. Shah has so far raised $4,600 and won support for the project from both laborers and landowners, with commitments from the community to help build and provide land for construction. When complete, the Deheri Shanti Dhaam will include a roofed crematorium, wood store, storage shed and the supplies needed to perform cremation service. After construction, it will be maintained by the Gram Panchayat, or village council.

"Here in America we always think of building schools, wells, libraries and hospitals to bring peace in developing countries," Shah wrote in the project proposal. "But what I have learned from my experience talking to the people of this village is that if there's one thing certain in life, it's death. … This project is designed toward that ultimate truth where people can bid a final farewell to their loved ones: with dignity, with respect and above all with 'shanti' [peace]."

Applications from Princeton students were sent through the University's Pace Center for Civic Engagement, which helps make civic engagement an integral part of the Princeton experience by connecting students with experiential service opportunities to sustain lasting and meaningful change in the community and around the world.