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Davis Projects for Peace Awards Two Grants to W&L Seniors

Two seniors at Washington and Lee University have each received a $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant. While a W&L senior has won this award each year since its inception, “this is a rare result in the competition and speaks to the quality of both proposals,” said Larry Boetsch, director of international education at W&L.

Both students have designed projects to enhance the lives of people in their countries of origin. Cynthia (Ho Yee) Lam, whose parents were born in Hong Kong, will establish a leadership academy for youth in the poorest district of that city. Daphine Mugayo, who is from Uganda, will create a computer laboratory in an area of her home country with limited access to technology.

Leadership Academy in Hong Kong

The daughter of first-generation immigrants to the United States, Lam will establish the Breakthrough Leadership Academy in the Sham Shui Po District. Lam, a native Cantonese speaker, is a double major at W&L in English and business administration, with minors in creative writing and philosophy.

In her application, Lam pointed out that Hong Kong has the largest wealth disparity of any developed nation in the world. Sham Shui Po has the lowest median household income in the city. One in five children live in low-income housing, 76 percent of residents lack secondary school education, and the rates of crime, prostitution and drug abuse surpass those of any other area of Hong Kong.

“Trapped in a cycle of intergenerational poverty and inequality, the youth of Sham Shui Po face much fewer prospects for higher education and upward mobility,” Lam said.

Lam will establish the academy in partnership with Hope of the City, a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting families in Sham Shui Po, and through which she has recruited a group of high school volunteers, including one from the United States. “Hope of the City has connected me to the larger Sham Shui Po network so I can reach out to a greater range of individuals, organizations and resources and ensure the academy’s sustainability,” said Lam.

The academy will provide a free three-week program of mentoring and teaching to motivated students from Sham Shui Po in English — a prerequisite for success — plus leadership and confident communication. The curriculum will offer bilingual education in Cantonese and English, and the students will return to their district with a long-term action plan and strategies for achievement.

“I think a huge part of learning is to make it fun and interactive,” said Lam, who has worked with children through volunteer work in local communities. “We will include a lot of sports activities and games so the students can use their vocabulary and learn as they play. We will also have simulations where they will be given different scenarios to practice how they might respond using English phrases.”

To ensure that the academy is a lasting legacy, the volunteers will receive individual training before the academy begins to prepare them to direct it the following summer and recruit further volunteers. Lam hopes the volunteers will become a support network of lifelong mentors and friends for the students of Sham Shui Po.

“I’m really excited about this project,” said Lam. “Education opens so many doors, and being able to provide it to those in need who would not normally have access to this type of education and may otherwise be on the streets or dropping out of school is really important to me. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and is one of the highlights of my college career.”

Computer Laboratory in Uganda

Mugayo, a double major in biochemistry and economics at Washington and Lee, grew up in the Hoima district in Uganda, where her grandparents and extended family live. She will create the first computer laboratory of its kind there.

Oil deposits were recently discovered in the Hoima district, leading to new construction that resulted in land disputes and further limited job opportunities for the residents. “My family is one of many families that, even though educated, lack the computer skills necessary for the competitive job market of the oil industry,” said Mugayo. “Almost none of the schools in Hoima district have access to computers, and the youth have barely any computer skills. And while mobile phones have improved communication, limited and expensive Internet communication has barely improved.”

Mugayo has partnered with her alma mater, Hilltop High School, a private school with electricity and broadband Internet, both of which are scarce in the area.

As a result of Mugayo’s project, the school will provide a building on its campus to house the computer laboratory and hire a teacher to instruct adults in computer literacy programs at a subsidized cost. The Davis Projects for Peace grant will primarily purchase 14 desktop computers, and Mugayo will work with the new instructor to organize the course and incorporate it into the school’s curriculum. As a number of staff members are computer illiterate, Mugayo intends to first work with them to enrich their computer skills.

In her application, Mugayo wrote that she hopes her project will empower the local people to become more competitive in the job market and increase their incomes. She also hopes that, through e-mail and social media, the locals will communicate with the rest of the world, create global friendships, become more familiar with their rights and build conflict-resolution skills.

“The United World Colleges sponsored me for my last two years of high school and exposed me to different areas of life, service and outdoor activities. They opened my mind to the wide range of opportunities I could take advantage of,” said Mugayo. “I don’t believe that I’ll create the most marvelous education system but I believe that, through smaller steps, I’ll make a difference in my country, and this is my first step to getting to where I hope to be.”

W&L is one of more than 90 colleges and universities eligible to receive funds from the Davis Projects for Peace by participating in the Davis program, which provides scholarships to students who attend the United World Colleges international high schools around the world.

Projects for Peace funds 100 projects each year and is part of the Davis United World College Scholars Program, based in Middlebury, Vermont. It is funded by the late Kathryn Wasserman Davis, a philanthropist and the widow of Shelby Cullom Davis, a businessman and former U.S. ambassador to Switzerland. Davis launched the initiative on the occasion of her 100th birthday in 2007 to challenge college students to build peace throughout the world through meaningful and innovative projects.