Three University of Virginia students have been awarded a Davis Projects for Peace grant for their proposal to promote civic engagement in Ghana.
Diana Wilson, of Newark, New Jersey, a second-year student in the College of Arts & Sciences; fourth-year anthropology and sociology major Sheila Otwe, who was born in Ghana and is currently living in Alexandria; and Henry Sarpong of Sterling and Ghana, a fourth-year biology major, plan to spend a month this summer at the University of Ghana at Legon, facilitating civic engagement for youth.
Davis Projects for Peace awarded 120 projects nationwide $10,000 each for implementation this summer. The organization was the vision of philanthropist Kathryn W. Davis on the occasion of her 100th birthday in 2007. Until her death in 2013, Davis was intent on advancing the cause of peace and sought to motivate tomorrow’s leaders by challenging them to find ways to “prepare for peace.”
In their project proposal, the UVA trio wrote, “We will engage with students in workshops to explore conceptual and practical frameworks of citizenship, acquire skills in project design and proposal writing, and develop project proposals to support their community’s development.”
Wilson, Otwe and Sarpong are building on the work of three other UVA students, Akwasi Asante, Kelvin Wiredu and Emmanuel Agyemang-Dua, who previously surveyed Ghanaians on participating in civic engagement.
“Our project is based on a research project conducted by three students last year at a different location but with similar objectives,” Sarpong said. “We applied for this project because we see it as a great opportunity to share in a much bigger vision of encouraging our youth to embark on their ideas on various projects. We realize that given the opportunity from the Davis scholarship, we will be able to embark on our goals for our project, which is to encourage active youth engagement in various communities in Africa.”
Wilson said the Davis funding gives them an opportunity to turn their ideas into a pragmatic project that will occur this summer.
“By engaging youth at the University of Ghana-Legon in civic dialogue and preparing them with project management skills, youth will learn to become initiators of conversations that address local and national issues, such as the quality of education for young women, inadequate access to affordable clean water, limited solid waste and drainage services, or poor roads and limited street lighting,” Wilson said. “With their project proposals, youth will engage with policymakers, educators and local leaders to solicit varying perspectives that will strengthen their civic efforts.”
The Citizens Initiative, a civic engagement NGO started by now-alumni Kelvin Wiredu and Akwasi Asante, will support the student participants with full mentorship and funding to implement their projects once the four-week program is over.
The UVA students’ project also dovetails with some of their studies.
“As an anthropology and sociology double major, I think about the questions that arise from trying to get a better understanding of people and societies,” Otwe said. “My coursework over the last four years has piqued my interests in transnationalism, social systems, identity formation, globalization and development, and the cross section of factors such as class, race, language and culture on one’s social and political reality.”
Andrus G. Ashoo, associate director of the Center for Undergraduate Excellence, said the students will share their research when they return.
“I’m very proud of the work that Henry, Diana and Sheila put into the planning of their project,” Ashoo said. “The network of relationships these students have fostered here in Charlottesville and in Accra, in Winneba, and with the University of Ghana-Legon has set them up to make a meaningful and responsible contribution to their home country.”
Dr. Maurice Apprey, a professor of psychiatry in the School of Medicine and the dean of African-American Affairs, said this is a good example of students combining their liberal arts and scientific educations.
“These are our current students and future leading lights who understand that leadership is a function of commitment to a purpose; one that designs and reconfigures change by bringing new energy and refinement into citizenship,” Apprey said. “In the context of global education, these University students are also overturning the concept of ‘brain drain’ and undertaking what we know today as ‘brain circulation.’ In this context, these students and Ghanaian youth will receive reciprocal outcomes: the former get to acquire and practice nimble and multiple leadership skills; the latter have an opportunity to learn by identification from people who look like themselves.”
Wilson is chair of Memorial for Enslaved Laborers a student group formed to educate the community about UVA’s early history and slavery, and vice president of the UVA Gates Millennium Scholars, and a Kempe-Faruv Fellow. She is an Echols Scholar and received the Stand Out first-year award at the annual Harambee II, a celebration organized by the African-American Affairs office that recognizes first-year and transfer students completing their first semesters at the University. She’s also received a Bill & Melinda Gates Millennium Scholar Award, a Ronald McDonald Charities Scholarship, the Ben Carson Scholarship Award, and the Coca-Cola Scholarship. She has studied abroad in South Africa, Brazil, various countries in the European Union, and St. Kitts & Nevis.
“My career goal is to consult for government agencies, non-profit organizations and for-profit businesses, on how to create successful models that will champion increased financial literacy and an effective model for business-assisted community development,” Wilson said. “I plan to get my MBA in human resource management in order to become a chief diversity officer of a Big Four consulting firm.”
Otwe is an events coordinator for the Organization of African Students and treasurer of United Sisters, an organization dedicated to the issues affecting women through education, discussion, service and an emphasis on improving self-esteem and creating a culture of sisterhood among marginalized women. She is also the UVA representative of the Skimm, an organization that provides email newsletters with summaries of the latest headline news.
A graduate of T.C. Williams High School, she is interested in community organizing or public service before going to graduate school.
Sarpong is a member of the Daniel Hale Pre-Medicine Honor Society and the CUREU organization at the University, a faith-based organization that focuses on raising funds to support children and families in need of medical treatment in underdeveloped countries. He is a volunteer with Charlottesville Abundant Life Ministries and a staff volunteer at Herndon Adult Day Health Care Center in Fairfax County.
A graduate of Kumasi Anglican Senior High School in Ghana, Sarpong plans to attend medical school after taking a year off to gain more on-hands experience in a clinical setting.
Henry, Diana and Sheila also will attend the Clinton Global Initiative Conference being held at University of California, Berkeley in April.
Projects for Peace is open to undergraduates at the American colleges and universities which are partners in the Davis United World College Scholars Program, including International Houses Worldwide, the Graduate Institute in Geneva, Future Generations Graduate School, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and the University of Maine.