Last Friday, we kicked off our 2013 Friday speaker series with presentations from our nine CSE Summer Grant recipients.
A large crowd of nearly eighty students, professors, and members of our advisory board gathered in an Axinn classroom to hear how these nine Middlebury sophomores spent their summers working on four projects for social change in Swaziland, Burundi, Pakistan and Chicago.
Gaby Fuentes, a sophomore from Chicago, launched into her presentation with an explanation of how her upbringing in a large Mexican-American family fostered a love of dance from an early age. After meeting Assistant Professor of Dance Christal Brown, Gaby spent the summer launching a week-long pilot program which focused on serving disempowered young girls in Chicago through a curriculum of dance, yoga, music as well as motivational and educational discussions.
Rabeya Jawaid traveled to Karachi, Pakistan and organized a program to train deaf Pakistani women how to sew and embroider as well as how to communicate in sign language in order to help these women gain financial independence. Rabeya grew up in Pakistan, but attended high school in Hong Kong, and returned to her childhood community with the hope of making sustainable social change. Rabeya’s ability to organize people and resources was apparent as she told her story.
“I think the most important thing I learned during my time there was about how to be a leader,” Rabeya noted during her presentation. “I have had the opportunity in the past to go to lots of leadership conferences, and going to conferences is helpful — but not as helpful as having your feet on the ground and getting things done.”
Rabeya was followed by Betty Kobia and Armel Nibasuma, who worked together to facilitate a week-long peace-building camp called Twese for Peace for 30 high school students in Burundi. The pair focused on peace building and youth empowerment to break the taboo surrounding race and ethnicity in Burundi, where the tension between Hutus and Tutsis has resulted in genocide and civil war in the past.
“We wanted to create a safe space where the students could build friendships,” explained Armel. “You need to have sustainable peace to have sustainable economic development. Those two things are so closely tied, and if you don’t have one then you don’t have the other.”
Jin Ying Teoh, Adrian Leong, Mzwakithi Shongwe and Roksana Gabidulina wrapped up the afternoon with their presentation on their work for Platforms for Hope, a program to design and distribute lap desks for students in Swaziland.
The four students talked about some of the challenges they faced in designing their project, such as finding a sustainable price point for the desks and coordinating manufacturing and distribution.
“We learned that sustainable change does not come easily or quickly,” Roksana said. “But it does come with the support of the community.”
After the presentations, the nine grant recipients along with the CSE staff and advisory board members gathered at the CSE for the first MLab of the fall to share their successes and challenges with one another and to compare notes on their experiences.
“I consider myself something of an expert in entrepreneurship,” Armel joked while talking about some of his key takeaways from the experience. “But really — you don’t have to be Mark Zuckerberg to be an entrepreneur. You just have to know your community, and be committed to solving social issues.”