Princetonians Forge Connections through Projects for Peace

Wednesday, Jun 7, 2017
by Princeton University Development Communications

This story originally appeared on the Giving to Princeton website.

Two projects designed by Princeton students to help make the world a better place have been awarded $10,000 by Davis Projects for Peace. Kyle Berlin ’18 plans to break down political divides through storytelling, and Lydia Watt ’18, Alice Vinogradsky ’20, Amanda Cheng ’20 and Kabbas Azhar ’18 will help bring clean drinking water to communities in Guyana.

Projects for Peace was established by philanthropist Kathryn W. Davis in 2007, the year she celebrated her 100th birthday. Until her death at age 106 in 2013, Mrs. Davis was intent on advancing the cause of peace and sought to motivate tomorrow's promising leaders by challenging them to find ways to "prepare for peace." The Davis family continues to honor her legacy by funding Projects for Peace.

Projects for Peace invites all undergraduates at the American colleges and universities which are partners in the Davis United World College Scholars Program to compete for one of 120 grants. 

"Competition is keen and we congratulate those students whose projects have been selected for funding in 2017," said Philip O. Geier, executive director of the Davis United World College Scholars Program that administers 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 Projects

No Place Like Home

Kyle Berlin ’18, a Spanish and Portuguese languages and cultures major from Arroyo Grande, California, will return to his hometown this summer to embark on a project that aims to explore and break down political divides through theater and storytelling. 

“The so-called political divide is a divide that extends well beyond ballot box politics,” said Berlin. “It is really a much more troubling, seemingly fundamental divide between persons and perspectives. It is a racial divide. It is a generational divide. It is a socioeconomic divide. It is a divide that forecloses on productive conversation.”

Working with local artists and community members, he plans to collect the stories of people living in Arroyo Grande—everyone from the descendants of Chumash Native Americans who first lived on the land, to the white farmers whose families have lived in Arroyo Grande for decades, to immigrants recently arrived from Latin America—and invite folks to share what “home” and Arroyo Grande mean to them. Working with local artists and community members, he will craft an immersive documentary and theater experience that weaves these community stories together. 

He hopes to spark conversations and encourage empathy and understanding.

“I envision this project, at its best, as a sort of re-seeing,” said Berlin. “It is an opportunity for Arroyo Grande to expand its vision of itself at this most critical of times. It is a chance to truly listen to each other. And it is a chance to make a tangible, thoughtful impact on people’s lives. Change and peace, of course, start infinitesimally small, but I hope that this project will inspire more expansive empathy—a sustainable wave-making empathy—in how people think about home, wherever they may go and make it.”

“Älay Hî Tuna”—Clean Water

Lydia Watt ’18, Alice Vinogradsky ’20, Amanda Cheng ’20, and Kabbas Azhar ’18 will travel to Guyana in South America to work with local communities to improve access to clean drinking water. 

“Water access is essential to a secure and dignified existence. The United Nations formally recognizes clean drinking water and sanitation as basic human rights,” the team wrote in their project proposal. “Yet one in 10 people lack access to safe drinking water. Our project seeks to help the members of the indigenous Macushi tribe in Guyana gain access to this fundamental resource.”

According to the team, access to clean water has become an issue for the Macushi community as annual droughts in the region have caused village wells to run dry, reducing access to potable water. The students, members of Global Development Network (GDN), a student organization at Princeton University under the auspices of the Pace Center for Civic Engagement, made an exploratory assessment trip to Guyana in the summer of 2016. They found that current sterilization methods used for the water villagers collect from private or shared wells, rainwater, or rivers are impractical and frequently ineffective, leading to illness. Working with Pro-Natura, a non-governmental organization focused on tackling social, economic, and environmental problems facing rural communities, the students plan to partner with the local community to manufacture and utilize clay filtration systems, an affordable and effective form of water sterilization.

“Our goal is to work with communities surrounding the Bina Hill Institute, an educational center in North Rupununi, Guyana,” said Watt, an environmental engineering major from Durham, New Hampshire. “[We aim to] build connections and continue to be involved with development in the region in whatever ways we can help. Through discussions with Guyanese locals and our NGO partner, we have been working to develop the sustainable filters model. We’re excited and grateful to have the support of Projects for Peace to bring this clean water initiative closer to fruition.”

The Princeton University Projects for Peace competition is coordinated by the Pace Center for Civic Engagement. Other participating institutions include International Houses Worldwide, the Graduate Institute in Geneva, Future Generations Graduate School, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, and the University of Maine. 

For more information on Projects for Peace, see www.davisprojectsforpeace.org

Photos by Gwen McNamara, Pace Center for Civic Engagement