April 7, 2010 — Two University of Virginia students have been awarded a 2010 Davis Projects for Peace award for their program to bring together Muslim and Coptic Christian orphans in Egypt.
Razan Osman, 20, of Herndon, a third-year foreign affairs and African-American studies double major, and Selam Asihel, 21, of Fairfax, a foreign affairs and economics major, will share the $10,000 prize.
Their project, which they call the Sakina Peace Program, is designed to empower young Muslim and Coptic Christian female orphans in Egypt through a micro-lending program to develop a fabric and ornament making business selling to Egypt's eco-tourist market. The program will also involve weekly educational seminars, presented with the collaboration of various international organizations and nongovernmental organizations such as Pathfinders, Coptic Orphans, The World Bank, USAID, HANDS and the U.S. State Department in Cairo.
"I'm very excited to get a real life experience in a country that I call home in some ways and to learn what it takes to serve international communities," said Osman, a Sudan native who frequently visits family in Egypt. "I think mentoring is essential to support future generations. I would like to see more undeveloped regions of the world create mentoring programs for youth."
The two students dubbed their project "sakina," which means "peace" in Arabic, to bridge the gulf between two groups by teaching entrepreneurism and providing a space for "peaceful social interaction."
"I am excited for the opportunity to take on such a promising project, and also anticipate to learn a lot about the challenges of development work," Asihel said.
"The Davis program provides students with an extraordinary opportunity to envision and then implement a meaningful project to promote peace somewhere in the world." said Lucy Russell, director of U.Va.'s Center for Undergraduate Excellence.
Asihel, an Eritrean born in Sudan, speaks Tigrinya and understands Arabic, both languages spoken by Coptic Christians in Egypt. She is affiliated with the Coptic Orthodox Church in Eritrea and believes she can be a liaison for Coptic girls in the program. She has worked on community support programs with the International Refugee Committee in Charlottesville and has had extensive interaction with low-income refugees through the Sankofa Mentoring Program, a program she leads to help refugee students in Charlottesville. Asihel has participated in the Women's Leadership Program and as a resident adviser.
Osman was born in Sudan and spent time in Sudan and Egypt until she was seven years old. She frequently travels to both countries to visit her family. She is fluent in Arabic and a practicing Sunni Muslim with an understanding of Muslim rituals, texts and traditions, experiences she believes will help her as a liaison with the program's Muslim participants.
Osman is co-administrator of Sankofa Mentoring program, a peer adviser for the Office of African-American Affairs and a big sister in the Young Women Leaders Program.
"They are really committed students who want to bring the University community together with the international world," said Edith "Winx" Lawrence, a professor of clinical and school psychology and director of the Young Women Leaders Program. "They are determined because they really believe in this cause. They are wonderful representatives of the University, and I am proud that they are doing this work this summer."
Osman plans to get a master's degree in public policy and go to law school. Asihel wants to work in international development policy and practice law.
"I would like to further my educational understanding of the systematic issues that are creating social problems today," Asihel said. "I plan to invest my career in working with internationally underrepresented groups, and bridging the gap between those groups and various groups of power and privilege, that often have conflicting interest."
The Davis United World College Scholars Program, which administers the Projects for Peace program, invited all undergraduates at colleges and universities participating in the Davis Program to design and propose grassroots projects they can implement during a summer. The 100 "most promising and doable" proposals each receive $10,000 in funding. This is the third year U.Va. has received a Davis prize.