Growing up in the tiny farming village of Groot-Henar Polder in Suriname, children attend a simple school with little more than classrooms, few books and a couple of bathrooms. In recent years, a library and a computer room have been added, but the lack of amenities presents the dedicated staff with numerous educational challenges.
With no lunchroom or gymnasium, students often must eat or exercise with no shade outside, where temperatures in this South American village simmer between 80 and 90 degrees daily.
Oema Rambharose '15 remembers those conditions. When her family moved to the U.S. in 2005 so she could pursue her dream of becoming a doctor, the village and the people Rambharose left behind continued to tug at her.
"I wanted to do something to help," said Rambharose, who is majoring in neuroscience, with a minor in French.
She will get her chance this summer when she returns home to oversee the construction of a multi-purpose room at her former school. Rambharose is the latest Union student to win a Kathryn Wasserman Davis Projects for Peace award. The $10,000 prize will support her project, "Building a Stronger Community under One Roof."
In its sixth year, the Davis Projects for Peace is an invitation to undergraduates to design grassroots projects that they will implement during the summer. The objective is to encourage and support today's motivated youth to create and try out their own ideas for building peace.
Rambharose had sought, but was not selected, for a Davis award during her first year at Union. She admits her application needed work. Undeterred, she was a frequent visitor this year at the College's Writing Center, polishing her application. She also worked closely with Maggie Tongue, director of Post-Baccalaureate Fellowships, to refine the project.
"Maggie helped me so much in putting it all together," she said.
Rambharose reached out to her school principal, Oesha Ganpat, who told her former student of the desperate need for an all-purpose room. Rambharose plans to recruit students and volunteers from the community to help with the project. She also has a commitment from a local contractor to provide free labor.
When completed, the new room will give students a separate place, out of the sun, to eat lunch, exercise or study during the day. At night, community groups will use it for karate, yoga, language and computer lessons, and other activities.
"The Davis Projects for Peace are a great opportunity for students to make a difference in a community," Tongue said. "Oema did a terrific job of identifying a problem and finding a way to solve it."
Rambharose is anxious to return home. Unlike her parents and six siblings, she hasn't been back to Suriname since settling in Schenectady.
"Half my life is back there," she said. "I miss it."
To learn more about her project and other Davis Projects for Peace winners, click here.