Two students win Davis Projects for Peace awards

Tshering Lama Sherpa '18 and Dima Yankova '16 are latest Union students to be awarded the grants
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Two students win Davis Projects for Peace awards

Dima Yankova '16 and Tshering Lama Sherpa '18

Tshering Lama Sherpa '18 and Dima Yankova '16 will return to their home countries of Nepal and Bulgaria, respectively, this summer to try and improve the quality of life there.

The pair is among 127 students nationwide to win a Kathryn Wasserman Davis Projects for Peace award. Union is one of the few schools to have multiple winners this year.

In its ninth 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 ideas for building peace. Each project is funded with a $10,000 grant.

Tshering Lama Sherpa '18

Hometown: Kathmandu, Nepal

Major: Environmental Science Minor: Political Science

Project title: Eco-Friendly Economic Solutions for Junbesi (Nepal)

Description: Junbesi is a small village that falls in the Everest trail in the mountainous region of Solu Khumbu. There are no direct roads to Junbesi, and the physical isolation means that the people survive either by income generated from tourists or subsistence farming. With the decade- long civil war in Nepal that ended in 2006 and the popularization of shorter routes to Everest, small villages like Junbesi suffered the most economically and socially. Lack of job opportunities and a general disdain of education due to minimal government funds for the village school have exacerbated the financial situation to the extent that the villagers still rely on firewood for such basic needs as warming their homes and cooking. This harms both the fragile mountain ecosystem and negatively affects health.

To tackle these problems, I intend to introduce Bio-briquettes as an alternative environmentally friendly fuel in Junbesi and an extra source of income. The briquettes can be made from wheat and rice husks, twigs, branches, forest litter and waste paper and do not contribute to air pollution. I have also planned kiwi farming workshops for the villagers as an alternative job opportunity because of the recent increase in demand of kiwi fruits in the capital region. I also hope to establish a kiwi orchard for the Junbesi High School. The kiwi trees prevent soil erosion and can be intercropped while the fruits from the orchard can be sold at the local market, and the income generated will be used to hold special after school classes for students who need and want help but haven't had the opportunity of individualized or specialized attention.

This year, there was an additional $810 provided, which I plan to use to buy books and school supplies for the students and fund two representatives from Nepal's Children's Art Museum to provide creativity and learning integrated workshops at the Junbesi School. I had volunteered at Junbesi High School during my gap year, which exposed me to the overwhelming lack of opportunities at the village. And while my experience there was brief, it did reveal the harsh reality that the people there have to live with. Through the Davis Projects for Peace grant, I feel privileged to be able to make a difference to their economic and living conditions while emphasizing environmental sustainability as a way to rebuild the community peacefully.

Dima Yankova '16

Hometown: Targovishte, Bulgaria

Major: Mechanical engineering. Minors: Environmental and Political Science

Project title: A Right to Play

Description: The goal of this project is to alleviate the dire situation inside one of Bulgaria’s biggest refugee-integration centers by fully upgrading its outdoor facilities and providing a welcoming and stimulating environment for its residents. Currently, more than 800 men, women and children inside the camp are unable to obtain a job or receive proper education. Many of them are still awaiting documents that would grant them a refugee or humanitarian status and allow them to leave the center and integrate in the society.

“A Right to Play” targets primarily the children and adolescents in the center, who have limited access to the outside world and are severely affected by the lack of physical and social activities. Together with a local organization, called “The Refugee Project,” we plan on completely transforming the outdoor space of the center by replacing the two old gravel-covered courts with a small soccer field and a basketball court. We will install two basketball hoops, two mini soccer goals and a portable volleyball net. Providing new sports facilities will greatly enhance the work of local volunteers and community members who have the necessary training but not the space and equipment to keep the children occupied.

For me, this project is part of a bigger commitment to change the way people in my country view refugees. The recent influx of asylum seekers has caused fear and anxiety in the Bulgarian society, which is already struggling to support a brittle economy. I wish people would stop looking at refugees as a threat and begin to recognize them as individuals who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

To learn more about this year’s winning Davis projects, click here.