Two EC Students Fight Discrimination and Illiteracy with ‘Projects for Peace’

Originally posted: September 6, 2011

Lailul Ikram stands in front of the building being constructed to house Indonesian Women for Success, the NGO he founded.The 2011 Earlham Peace Project grant recipients returned to campus this fall with more than the usual demands of college life.

In addition to the homework and tests, Lailul Ikram and Ivan Babic have the added responsibilities of helping discriminated and uneducated populations in their home countries.

Ikram came to Earlham to study business, work for a big company, make lots of money, and then help others, but, he says, “I can’t be that kind of person anymore I want to help people as soon as possible — even before I support my own life.”

With assistance from a Davis Projects for Peace grant, Ikram found a way to do just that this summer. As a senior business and non-profit management and math double major, he is in charge of an Indonesian NGO employing 70-80 women who were once part of a rebellion group.

“This is my priority now,” he says of his non-profit called Indonesian Women for Success. “My hope is that within the next six or seven years, we will have 1,000 women workers.”

Many of the women in Aceh, a territory in the northern part of Indonesia, lost their husbands during the civil war or during the 2004 tsunami. They are uneducated and don’t know how to support themselves and their children, he says.

With the $10,000 from the Davis grant and additional funds he secured from the local government, Ikram oversaw the construction of a 1.5 story building to house the NGO and its operation. He purchased materials and hired and trained 80 workers. In June, they began production of small fiber art merchandise that can be sold at tourist shops. Ikram says he has funding for supplies and salaries through December and is working to secure a contract that will ensure the continuation of his dream.

“Right now the product is being sold in the nearby, smaller cities,” he says. “I have proposals to bigger companies that will purchase and market a specific amount of our product each month in the larger, more tourist-friendly cities. From the responses I am receiving about the quality and desirability of our product, I am confident that we are getting close to securing this contract.”

Like Ikram, Ivan Babic’s priorities have shifted.

“I can’t in good conscience get my education, find a job and forget about my country,” he says.

Babic’s Peace Project, which was funded by the Earlham President’s Discretionary Fund, included four parts, all of which worked to improve the quality of life for Bosnia’s Roma or gypsy population, which Babic says is a threatened group that is highly discriminated against.

Babic, a junior computer science and politics double major, oversaw the renovation of a kindergarten with a new heating system, carpet, paint and computers. In addition, new shelving, books and educational toys were purchased for the class. In return the school officials agreed to allow the gypsy children to attend school without paying fees. Babic arranged for tutors to help the children catch up in their studies.

Ivan Babic distributes seed potatoes to Roma families as a part of his peace project.A second component of his project involved grant-writing workshops for adults.

“It is no secret that the Roma population is getting further and further behind, so the EU funds nearly every request with the word Roma in it,” he says. Although grants are funded, the money seldom reaches Bosnia because of a variety of current problems including corruption. To improve this, a group of professionals gave a 5-day, 12 hour-per-day workshop to teach grant writing skills to 23 Roma participants, who will receive the grant money directly and can ensure that it is used in the manner it was intended. Babic used $250 of his peace project money to fund the best proposal from the workshop.

A third segment of his project was to make computers available to the Roma population. Working with the NGO Youth Organization Turbe, Babic purchased five computers and secured free Internet service. Youth Organization Turbe contributed four additional computers and a room to house the computers. Computer classes were offered for adults and children.

The final part of his project involved providing seeds to every family in an entire Roma village.

“Half of what they will grow will be eaten and the other half will be used to replant next season,” Babic explains. “In all, they were given 12 different types of seeds or seed materials — potatoes, carrots, corn.”

Babic says the grant-writing workshop will be offered again this fall, and in addition to the computer classes, guitar, English and math classes are offered at Youth Organization Turbe. Babic continues working with grant proposals to secure additional government funding. He receives monthly reports that detail the progress being made at the NGO as well as the progress of the five Roma students attending kindergarten.

“At first it was hard to motivate the kids and their parents,” he says. “Before they would spend their days searching for scrap metal to make a little money for their families. These kids now realize that school is better than what they have at home, and seeing their smiles after the first few days made it all worthwhile for me.”

Kathryn Wasserman Davis launched the Davis Projects for Peace on her 100th birthday in 2007 and has been renewing her challenge to college students to undertake innovative and meaningful projects each year since. Designed to encourage and support motivated youth to create and implement their ideas for building peace throughout the world, each project receives $10,000 funding. Continuing Earlham’s commitment to peacemaking activities throughout the world, an additional project has been funded at the same level each year by the Earlham President’s Discretionary Fund.

This was the fifth consecutive year that Earlham students have been awarded peace project grants.

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