This report is going to 263 friends of The Advocacy Project who have donated $69,000 to our fellowship program through GlobalGiving. Your generosity has allowed us to send 51 Peace Fellows (graduate students) to volunteer with our partners in over 25 countries since 2015. They have included Lauren, seen in the photo, who helped our Ugandan partner install WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) at a Ugandan primary school in 2017.
During this time we have also recruited another 28 undergraduates and high school students to provide remote support from the US. You can meet them all here.
We are proud of this record and grateful to you for making it possible. At the same time, we also feel the time has come to make some changes. I want to share our thinking with you in this email.
As noted in previous reports, we have gradually reduced the number of graduates deployed abroad while expanding recruitment here in the US. This began as a necessary response to COVID-19, which put the brake on international travel. But it also reflects a shift in our priorities towards investing more resources in partners.
COVID-19 has shown that marginalized communities have an amazing capacity for innovation and we need to encourage this. Between 2020 and 2022 we transferred over $156,000 to 52 different start-ups designed by local partners. Most of the start-ups have expanded into sustained programs.
Our Fellows have been central to this success and there will always be a role for them in this new strategy. But it may not always resemble our traditional approach to recruitment.
Let’s start with graduates. We had expected to recruit four graduates this summer to work on four programs in Africa that will all be familiar to our friends.
Two are in Kenya. In the northwest, Child Peace Initiative Kenya works to promote peace and resiliency against climate change among pastoralists. In the Nairobi settlement of Kibera, twenty single mothers have developed a unique model of composting food waste that they will shortly introduce to schools. In Zimbabwe, our partner helps girls to run a soap business. The last of the four programs installs WASH in Ugandan schools.
These four organizations and programs have hosted a combined 18 Peace Fellows since 2011 and we had hoped to deploy more this summer. This has become difficult. Northwest Kenya is off-limits after months of fighting over cattle, described in this bulletin. Security could also be a problem in Zimbabwe where an election will shortly be held. (We had to evacuate a Fellow during the last election in 2018).
The situation is different in Uganda. The Gulu Disabled Person Union (GDPU), our local partner, has managed five successful school projects since 2015 and does not see the need for a Peace Fellow this summer. We agree and view this as an important step towards self-sufficiency.
Which leaves composting in Kibera. We are investing $20,000 of our own money in this program and have asked Caitlin, a Masters student at George Washington University, to support Stella and her team of composters in Nairobi.
In keeping with our new strategy, Caitlin will also help to develop an entirely new idea - for a North-South network of composting students in Kenya and the US.
Here in the US, five students from high schools in Rhode Island, California and Pennsylvania will serve as Peace Fellows for us while also interning at environmental groups in their communities. We hope that Caitlin will connect them to the students who are composting in Nairobi so that the two groups can learn from each other. Our five American Fellows will then return to their schools in the Fall and lead student initiatives to compost food waste in their school cafeterias and kitchens.
This is a great example of how our Peace Fellows can support a sparkling initiative by a local partner - in this case in Kenya - regardless of their age and levelf of education.
Afghanistan offers another example. As readers may know, we invested in a girls’ education program in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2008. Last year we also investigated the challenges facing Afghans who were airlifted to the US following the fall of Kabul on August 15, 2001.
Our research found plenty of problems in the resettlement process in the US. But we also uncovered a rich resource in the form of talented Afghan women leaders who continue to support projects for women and girls in Afghanistan from their new home. We want to help.
With this in mind we have recruited a talented Afghan graduate student at Georgetown University who arrived in the US after August 15 to join our team of Fellows. We have asked her to develop a database of people and projects that still work for girls in Afghanistan, to be shared with agencies and donors. We also hope that she will develop a stitching and story-telling project for former Afghan refugees in the Washington area that will eventually produce an income.
All of this represents a more flexible and informal approach to recruiting Fellows than in the past. In the same vein we have also invited applicants to help us design their own fellowships. This is not to everyone’s liking and a fall-off in applications this year suggests that most students prefer more structure. But this is a year of learning and transition.
We are also exploring the possibility of recruiting graduates from universities in Africa and Asia where our partners work. As well as opening up opportunities to students from the Global South, this would give us the flexibility to recruit outside the summer months (when American students are available) and draw on more local expertise. I hope to meet candidates during a trip to Africa in July.
Whatever happens we will remain committed to providing students with a unique opportunity to work on the frontlines for social justice. This will be reflected in our next report in the Fall.
Thank you for your support and friendship – and for believing!
Iain and the AP team
This report is going to friends who have donated $52,641 to our fellowship program Fellows for Peace through GlobalGiving. Since 2003, with your help, the program has given 332 students the chance to work on the frontlines for peace in 43 countries. We are deeply grateful.
As noted in recent reports, the pandemic forced us to introduce remote fellowships and broaden admission to undergraduates and high school students. Of the 34 Fellows to serve since 2020, seven were deployed to Africa and Asia, while the rest worked from home in the US.
We made these changes with some trepidation, because our program was originally designed for graduates who wanted to work abroad. But we need not have worried. The changes have brought in new talent and energy without sacrificing the original vision of international service. Offering the remote option has also widened our recruiting pool. This is the theme of our report.
After a brief hiatus, our international Fellows have picked up where their predecessors left off before the pandemic. They have launched start-ups, strengthened existing programs in Africa, coordinated embroidery trainings, and produced strong photos, video footage and blogs. Those working remotely from the US, meanwhile, have shown that distance is no barrier to building friendships and monitoring projects on the other side of the world. A small number of high school Fellows have given us a younger perspective and shown great creativity. Coming out of the pandemic our fellowship program is as sound as ever.
The biggest challenge remains cost. Sending Fellows abroad is expensive, but our funds are limited and projects in the Global South must take priority. As a result, we will continue to rely on individual donations, which cover 80% of our core costs including fellowships. The next chance to donate will come on November 29 (GivingTuesday) when GlobalGiving will match donations up to $2,500. Click here to donate.
Mission and Diversity
Two things remain unchanged about our model of international service. The first is our commitment to empowering marginalized communities. Judging from the feedback from past Fellows this remains appealing to students. The Advocacy Project offers them a way to engage and make a difference.
The second constant is our unswerving commitment to diversity among our Fellows. Diversity is a core value but it also provides us with people who identify with minorities and understand the challenges facing partners in the South. Fourteen of our 34 Fellows since 2020 were born outside the US or are first-generation Americans (from Ukraine, Haiti, Nepal, Turkey, Vietnam, Cape Verde, Mexico, and India). Twenty-five have been female.
In this spirit of diversity, we were delighted this summer to welcome Aimee, an undergraduate at the University of California who came to the US from Guatemala at the age of four without documents. After years of living in the shadows, Aimee was accepted into the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which protects undocumented young people in the US from deportation. DACA has been relentlessly challenged in the courts and Aimee attended a hearing at the US Court of Appeals in New Orleans in July to defend the program (top photo). (DACA survived the challenge.) Having overcome discrimination herself Aimee was a perfect choice to support our work with girls in Zimbabwe from the US.
This year’s Fellows inherited four strong programs in Africa and Asia that owe much to the hard work and ingenuity of their predecessors.
One of our 2022 Fellows, Dawa (University of Texas A and M), spent her time in Zimbabwe with underprivileged girls who make and sell soap. Helped by her input they are on track to sell 16,000 bottles of soap this year. In Nepal, Therese (Georgetown University) helped family members of the disappeared to make exquisite embroidered festival designs and train other women from the Tharu minority. In Kenya, Julia (George Washington University) helped to launch two visionary new start-ups for pastoralists. The fourth Fellow deployed abroad, Kyle (Texas A and M), helped to install new toilets at a primary school in Northern Uganda.
These four programs drew on the efforts of 22 graduate students between 2011 and 2020.
To take one example, the toilet project in Uganda was inspired by a 2011 blog by Rebecca at the University of Maryland. Our 2015 Fellow in Uganda, Josh (Columbia University), raised over $4,000 to install toilets at a primary school in 2015 and three more schools received our WASH package between 2016 and 2019. By the time Kyle left Uganda this summer, a fifth school had been equipped and over 5,000 students were benefitting from decent sanitation. This straight line between past and current Fellow has not been interrupted by the pandemic.
New Fellows also bring changes and innovations. During her time in Zimbabwe, Dawa designed a new fund that will enable many of the soap-making girls to complete their high school education. The new WASH package at the Awach school in Uganda includes, for the first time, a changing room for girls. One of the two start-ups in Northern Kenya will offer herders a way to share dwindling pasture – a practical response to climate change. In commissioning the embroidered festival designs from family-members in Nepal, Therese had one eye on selling their work in the US. These were all new ideas.
Fellows in the field produce photos, blogs and video footage that we turn into news bulletins and proposals. They can also be formidable fundraisers, as Julia showed this summer in launching a fundraiser on GlobalGiving for the Kenya start-ups. All of our major programs now have their own appeals on GlobalGiving, largely thanks to past Fellows. Many of you have also donated to these appeals and we thank you again for that.
Apart from cost the biggest challenge facing our international fellowship program has been continuity. Fellows are deployed for ten weeks between their first and second year of graduate study. The past three years have shown that this is the perfect length of time for launching a start-up and producing important deliverables. But we have to wait for another year before the next Fellow will become available. This makes it hard to maintain momentum during the rest of the year.
It has taken the pandemic to help us find a solution, in the form of remote fellowships.
Remote Fellowships - Undergraduates
We opened up fellowships to undergraduates and high school students in 2020 partly to offer more resources to our Southern partners and partly to provide students in the North with some relief from the pandemic.
This decision has energized our program and partnerships. In the first place it has made fellowships more accessible to universities in the West and Midwest of the US. Our 34 Fellows since 2020 have come from 22 universities and schools.
Second, the expansion has given undergraduates direct input into our work in the Global South. Take for example Agent Orange in Vietnam. We are heavily invested in helping victims of this ghastly tragedy and sent 12 graduates to Vietnam between 2008 and 2020 to work with severely affected families. We did not want to see the project fizzle out during the pandemic, so we put up another appeal on GlobalGiving and asked Ryan, an undergraduate at the University of California, to help our Vietnamese partner purchase two cows for new families. Ryan knew the language and also knew about Agent Orange because his own grandparents had fled from Vietnam in the 1990s. This compensated for the fact that he could not be present in person.
Delaney (University of California - photo below) and Evan (University of Maryland) are two other undergraduate Fellows who have made a significant contribution in working remotely. Both have helped us to revive a partnership with the River Gypsies in Bangladesh which was suspended in 2014 after our Peace Fellow at the time had to be evacuated. Meeting regularly on Zoom with our partner in Bangladesh, Evan and Delaney have helped to design an innovative start-up that includes the purchase of two fishing boats.
Delaney also played a key role in developing two start-ups in the crowded settlements of Kibera and Kangemi in Nairobi. Both projects began with embroidery training at the height of the pandemic and led to the formation of associations headed by dynamic leaders. Delaney used WhatsApp to meet regularly with Stella in Kibera and together they designed a pioneering composting start-up. Delaney also helped Caren to launch a vaccination campaign in Kangemi that has inspired similar campaigns in five other countries and vaccinated over 5,000 vulnerable individuals – an amazing outcome. Our input has come entirely from the US.
Remote fellowships have also allowed us to create 2-person teams of Fellows – with one working abroad and one working from home. This has helped to relieve the loneliness that comes with any international deployment and also enhanced the quality of fellowships. In one example this past summer Daniel, an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, commissioned dinner plates from the embroidered festival designs collected by Therese, our graduate Fellow in Nepal. This has opened up exciting possibilities for the artists in Nepal, who we have supported since 2015.
Blogs are another way that team members can enrich each other’s work. Working from Liberia in 2021, Mathew described the ostracism that still faces Ebola survivors. Back in California, his undergraduate partner Beliz took a deep dive into stigma and came up with insights that have informed new projects with survivors of albinism in Kenya and war rape in Uganda.
Finally, remote fellowships have shown that friendships can flourish at a distance as well as in person. After 18 months of WhatsApp, Delaney and Stella finally came face to face this summer when Delaney visited Kenya. It was, reports Delaney, much like a family reunion.
Delaney is a perfect example of how students of all ages have enhanced our organization while enjoying their own life-changing experience. Delaney joined AP as an intern in 2020, became a Fellow in 2021 and took over as program manager in 2021 before returning to university. We have invited Delaney onto our Board, where she will join two former graduate Fellows and a former undergraduate intern. Student volunteers are part of our institutional DNA.
Of course, there will always remain a difference between remote and in-person fellowships. The latter will always seem more glamorous, and nothing can substitute for the thrill of working in Africa or Asia. On the other hand, working remotely also gives us more leeway to be creative because remote Fellows are not exposed to the risks of working in the field. As we show in the next section, we have taken full advantage of this!
Remote Fellowships - High Schools
Our first high school Fellow, Grace, signed up in 2020 while studying at the Walt Whitman High School in Washington and we made good use of her design skills. She was followed in 2021 by Nina, 16, our youngest-ever Fellow, who mobilized friends from her school in Georgia to make and sell soap in solidarity with the soap-making girls in Zimbabwe. After 18 months, they are still going strong and recently sent us $600 to help the girls in Zimbabwe complete school. A second group of high school students, from the Wakefield School in Virginia, also made soap and raised $682 for the Zimbabwe girls. They were led by Nahier and Elena (photo).
It requires flexibility on our part to work with high school social entrepreneurs like Nina, but this is a small price to pay for their creativity and enthusiasm. Inspired by the experience, we will look for a high school partner in the US for all future projects. One school has already expressed interest in taking up composting, inspired by Stella’s worms in Nairobi.
Remote Fellows have also revolutionized our project management. Since 2020 we transferred $146,815 to 28 projects in 14 countries - a lot of money to track without having boots on the ground! We responded by turning our Google Drive into a virtual office where partners and Fellows meet every week to check receipts and upload deliverables to an “output tracker”. This has satisfied our auditors and brought out skills in Fellows like Brigid (2020) and Sarina (2021) that surprised even themselves.
Finally, and most important, these virtual meetings have provided the continuity and year-round oversight over projects that was missing up to 2020.
We see no lessening of enthusiasm among our Fellows following the expansion of the program.
After living through endless power cuts and enduring bone-jarring bus rides, Therese, Dawa, Julia and Kyle can confirm that field deployments remain as challenging as ever - one reason why they have always appealed to graduate students with a passion for field work. (Therese is one of over 50 Fellows who worked in the Peace Corps before they signed up for our program.)
Nor, judging from feedback, has working remotely affected the quality of fellowships for undergraduates. Beliz, who supported Mathew in Liberia from her home in California, told us that her fellowship had helped her “meet amazing people around the world.” Ryan, also in California, wrote that his long-distance support for Agent Orange families in Vietnam had “opened my eyes to the entire field of NGO work. For those hungry to get their foot in the door, this is a great place to start.”
As fellowships have expanded so has our network of past Fellows. Scores of them open our news bulletins regularly and some also donate to our fundraisers, years after they left the fold. In the last three years alone we have written over thirty letters of reference for former Fellows. This suggests that our brand of international service - remote or in-person - can open up a useful pathway to the future. We follow their careers with pride.
What lessons can be drawn from these past three years and how can we maximize the benefits?
It will start with the mission and work plan. We will continue to focus on marginalized communities in the Global South but broaden out to the US where we hope to work - for example - with Afghan refugees and women in prison. We also hope that more high schools in the US will follow Stella’s example in Kenya and compost their food waste. We will shortly launch an online store to sell embroidery from our Southern partners here in the US.
A program of this kind requires a lean and nimble organization and we like our current mixture of five part-time staff members backed up by contractors and volunteers. The same thinking will drive our fellowship program. Mindful of limited resources, we will only recruit graduates to work abroad if they are really needed, unlike pre-pandemic years like 2009 when we sent 42 graduates to 25 countries.
When recruiting graduates for field work we should focus on short-term dliverables and not expect them to provide a year’s worth of support to their hosts in just ten weeks. Above all, they must remain safe. We can be bolder with undergraduates and high school students who work remotely from the US, and will invite applicants to help us design their own fellowships. All of this will probably require more field trips by AP staff.
This seems the logical way to build on the successes of the last three years. We would like to get your feedback and hope that you continue to remain at our side! Email us at email@example.com.
In deepest gratitude,
The AP team
This email is going to 237 friends who have donated $48,641 to our fellowship program on GlobalGiving since 2016. We are closing in on our target of $55,000 and are grateful to you all!
The coming summer promises to be busy. We will deploy five graduate students to Nepal, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Uganda and expect all of them to have the same rich experience enjoyed by Talley when she served in Kenya in 2017 (top photo). Four talented students will back up the 2022 team from the US.
We continue to be concerned by COVID-19, which remains a problem in the Global South as described in this recent bulletin. Infection rates are currently low in the countries where Fellows will be deployed, but we must be on guard. The rates of vaccination vary widely throughout Africa.
But at the same time we refuse to let the pandemic derail our program! Indeed, this could be the theme of our work during these difficult three years. We have recruited 34 Fellows from 19 universities and High Schools since the pandemic began in March 2020. Only seven will have worked in the field, but all will have provided indispensable support to our Southern partners and learned much in the process. Their blogs so far have been outstanding.
We received about 30 applications this year and have selected 9 students from 7 respected academic programs. Scroll down on this page to see their profiles. Between them, they have plenty of relevant experience: Kyle (Texas A and M University) has worked at schools in Sierra Leone and Honduras. This will stand him in good stead in Uganda, where he will install toilets at a primary school. Therese will draw on her work as a former Peace Corps volunteer during her deployment to Nepal. As in past years the team is nicely diverse: no fewer than three Fellows - Dawa, Srijana and Prabal - were born in Nepal.
Supporting Partners and Start-ups
Our new Peace Fellows will support a wide range of projects that have evolved over the past three years, often in response to COVID-19.
To put this into context, the pandemic has fallen most heavily on vulnerable and marginalized communities – the very people we work for at The Advocacy Project. As a result, 2020 was a year of desperation for our partners. Their stakeholders were locked down, isolated, and prevented from working. Vaccines were a long way off.
Aware of the need, we transferred $28,159 to eight start-ups in Nepal, Palestine, Mali, Uganda, and Kenya in 2020. Our goal was to help these partners respond to the pandemic but also to lay the foundation for sustained future action. This worked out so well that we scaled up in 2021 and provided $62,780 to the 27 projects described on this page. We are currently supporting these 18 projects and have transferred $18,892 so far this year.
This has changed the way we do business. When the pandemic erupted, we suddenly found ourselves having to track scores of small transfers to Africa and Asia without having direct access to partners. In normal times, Peace Fellows would have done the job, but these times have been anything but normal!
The methodology that emerged has served us well and will be used by our team this summer. Projects now move through a pipeline. They begin as start-ups that last up to a year and (very often) bring women together to tell their story through embroidery. If they achieve their goals, we will help them to take on social challenges (like a vaccination campaign) or start a small business. If this second phase works well we help the partner seek long-term funding for up to 5 years.
This approach is reinforced by remote monitoring. Since March 2020 we have met remotely with most partners every two weeks and helped them to check their expenditure, keep receipts and update an “output tracker” on Google Drive. This has strengthened their organizations without imposing "capacity-building." As we have noted in previous reports, Peace Fellows have made a critical contribution to this system of project management. They will do so again this summer.
The 2022 Work Plan
Our 2022 Fellows will support projects in five countries: Bangladesh, Nepal, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Uganda.
In Nepal, Therese and Prabal will visit Bardiya District in the Midwest to work with Kushma, Alina and Kancham, three talented fiber artists who have developed a unique stitching style during earlier projects supported by AP. All three lost fathers to the disappearances and we hope to sell their embroidery through a new online shop. Therese will bring back samples to the US.
Therese and Prabal will then accompany the three artists to Dang District where they will provide embroidery training to 20 Tharu women who scrape together a living from dishwashing. We launched an appeal for the dishwashers in early 2020 and raised $1,060, but the project was put on hold because of the pandemic. Prabal and Therese will receive support from another Fellow, Srijana, back here in the US.
Our work in Uganda this summer will be led by Kyle at the Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU). Kyle will help Emma, the indefatigable program manager at GDPU, to raise morale and improve hygiene at a large primary school in Gulu District, to be identified shortly. They will start by installing accessible toilets and handwashing at the school and then commission enough face-masks and soap to carry the school through to the end of 2022. The masks and soap will be produced by two social entrepreneurs with a disability who launched start-ups with our help during the pandemic: Mama Cave and Freeman. Funding has been generously provided by the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Dublin, Ohio.
Kyle will also check up on two other start-ups in Gulu supported by AP. The first, managed by HIVE Uganda, trains persons with visual impairment to make and sell honey. The second was launched last year by Women in Action for Women (WAW), an association of incredibly brave women who were forced into sexual slavery by rebels from the Lord’s Resistance Army. They have described their ordeal through powerful embroidered stories and we hope to sell their embroidery through an online store this Fall.
In Zimbabwe, Dawa (Texas A&M) will work at Women Advocacy Project (WAP) with 80 girls from inner-city neighborhoods who are making and selling soap. The girls sold 16,000 bottles last year – an amazing achievement during the pandemic. But their funding runs out at the end of this year and we hope that Dawa can help WAP cut costs and expand sales. We also hope to launch a modest education fund to help the girls complete secondary school and have asked Dawa to identify beneficiaries.
Dawa will be supported by Aimee (UCLA California). Dawa and Aimee may also be joined by students from the Wakefield High School in Virginia who have been making soap in solidarity with the WAP girls.
Julia (George Washington University) will be the fifth Fellow to work in Kenya with our partner Children Peace Initiative Kenya (CPIK) since 2015. CPIK organizes peace camps for children from tribes that have been fighting over cattle and pasture-land. This builds trust and opens the way to economic cooperation and the joint management of natural resources. Julia will be supported from the US by Daniel (University of Pennsylvania). We will ask Daniel to explore the possibility of nominating CPIK for the Nobel Peace Prize and reach out to the World Bank and Alliance for Peacebuilding on behalf of CPIK.
Peace Fellow Evan (University of Maryland) will provide remote back-up for the Subornogram Foundation, which works with River Gypsies on the island of Mayadip in Bangladesh. Our partnership with the foundation dates back to 2013 and we funded several new initiatives in 2021 that included this innovative fishing and feeding program. Evan will work remotely from the US and join Delaney, our program manager, and Shahed from Subornogram for weekly meetings on Zoom.
As well as supporting these projects, Fellows may also work on several cross-cutting initiatives. AP has supported five vaccination campaigns by partners and Subornogram remains concerned that the River Gypsies of Mayadip are still missing out. Evan will help with the next phase.
We will also offer new opportunities to women and girls who have used embroidery to tell their stories during the pandemic. Many have become skilled fiber artists and - as noted above - we are developing an online shop where we can sell their embroidery. Bobbi, our quilt coordinator, and Delaney (project manager) will visit Africa in July and offer advanced embroidery training. Our African Peace Fellows will be part of the action.
We show photos of the four field Fellows and their hosts at the end of this email.
Looking ahead to the summer, our expectations differ slightly from previous years. In the past we measured a fellowship by the impact on the individual Fellow. While we still want Fellows to enjoy a fantastic experience, our focus this year will be on projects. We also want Fellows to see themselves as part of a seamless, year-long program of support that we offer to their hosts. We feel that this shift of emphasis will result in greater productivity and put less pressure on Fellows.
There will, however, be no compromise on security. We will keep in touch daily with Fellows in the field and require them to observe good practice and defer to their hosts at all times. This may be as simple as asking Kyle to wear a helmet when he is taking a boda boda, the notorious Ugandan taxi.
Finally, all this costs money, which is why your help is so important. We provide a $1,000 stipend, medical insurance, and a transport subsidy to each Fellow in the field. Those who work remotely will receive $150 a month. We also help Fellows to make up the difference through their schools or outside funding, and are deeply grateful to the Jessica Jennifer Cohen Foundation for supporting Dawa in Zimbabwe and Julia in Kenya.
All Fellows will be posting regular blogs here. We hope you will check in regularly and leave comments.
We look forward to reporting back in the Fall and thank you again for your generous support!
The AP 2022 team
This email is going to 237 friends who have donated to our fellowship program (Fellows for Peace) through GlobalGiving since 2016. We have raised $48,221 and are closing in on our target of $55,000, much helped by $12,955 donated recently on Giving Tuesday. We are so grateful to you all!
The purpose of this email is to bring you up to speed and share ideas for the future. In terms of numbers, we have deployed 313 Fellows since the program started in 2003 and recruited another 16 this year. Our year was overshadowed by the pandemic, but we have made adjustments and feel the program is richer for them. Necessity is the mother of invention!
The main question is whether we can deploy Peace Fellows abroad. Travel opened up this year and allowed us to send three students to Africa. They did excellent work, but it was difficult. One – who was fully vaccinated – came down with the virus. Another had to evacuated because of a sudden lockdown.
More uncertainty lies ahead in 2022, particularly as Africa is scandalously behind on administering vaccines and a dangerous new variant of the coronavirus may be on the horizon.
We launched Fellows for Peace in 2003 partly to provide students with a unique experience. With this in mind, we have cast the net as wide as possible over the years and drawn students from over 70 academic programs in North America and Europe.
This has changed with the pandemic. Instead of recruiting far and wide, we drew graduates from schools we know well and looked for undergraduates in universities that normally offer a semester in Washington to students with an interest in international affairs. These excellent programs have been hard hit by the pandemic, and we wanted to offer a good substitute.
This year we recruited from the University of Illinois; Illinois University; Pomona College (California); Albertus Magnus College (New Haven); Concordia College (Moorhead, Minnesota); and the University of California (Riverside). We also attracted our first-ever High School Fellows from the Walt Whitman school in Washington DC, and the South Forsyth High School in Georgia.
This has given us a great mix of Fellows from all regions, nationalities and different ages. It worked so well that we plan to repeat in 2022, pandemic or not.
Supporting Partners and Start-ups
The main task of Peace Fellows is to support community-based advocates and the need has never been greater. All of our partners in the Global South work for marginalized communities that were vulnerable even before the pandemic. COVID-19 has added a whole new layer of misery, isolation and poverty. Several of our associates have died from the virus.
Our job has been to provide money, technical advice - and friendship.
We began by offering to fund start-ups that addressed the COVID-19 emergency while strengthening the partner organization and laying the foundation for a sustainable program. Every start-up has begun with story-telling through embroidery, at the request of partners, because it offers women in particular a creative outlet for frustration and an opportunity to socialize. All of the start-ups then moved past embroidery to set up small businesses or undertake social justice campaigns.
Recognizing the extreme need, our 2021 donors - including perhaps yourselves - have been generous. This allowed us to transfer $50,569 to the 27 projects listed here. They have ranged from a soap business in Zimbabwe run by girls to the purchase of a fishing boat for River Gypsies in Bangladesh. One of our most successful projects Be Brave – Get Vaccinated! has mobilized women in Nairobi to get almost 1,000 vulnerable people vaccinated in 6 weeks. This approach began with an embroidered design and is being followed by partners in Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Bangladesh.
The upshot is that we will go into 2022 with a rich portfolio of projects led by close friends who have been tested by the crisis and emerged as true leaders.
Much of this is due to our 2021 Peace Fellows.
After agonizing over whether to send Fellows abroad, we took our cue from university partners and deployed three graduate students from the Fletcher School, Tufts University, to Africa. As we reported in June, this decision was not taken lightly and the Fellows reviewed some of the ethical dilemmas in their blogs.
In the event, they did a fine job and introduced us to three compelling new issues. Jeremiah worked with migrants from Senegal who risked their lives to reach Europe but were forced to return. He analyzed their plight through insightful blogs and produced a brilliant video from footage shot by the migrants themselves. Jeremiah also organized embroidery training for grieving mothers whose sons drowned trying to leave. His fine work has exposed the human cost of irregular migration and given us a point of entry for further action.
We are equally grateful to Anna from the Fletcher School, who supported survivors of sexual slavery in northern Uganda. She is seen in the top photo with Victoria, the group's leader, and the two have become close personal friends. Anna stayed in touch with Victoria's group after returning to the US and steered them through three ambitious embroidery start-ups.
Anna also built a strong friendship with the Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU) an AP partner for ten years. Unfortunately, the closure of schools in Uganda prevented her from actively working on promising projects to install toilets in schools and produce face-masks and soap. We hope to pick these up again in 2022.
Anna’s other main achievement was to describe the impact of the pandemic through powerful blogs. These were well researched and written, as one would expect of a top Masters student. One blog recalled the life of Dolly, an inspiring school principal who passed away from COVID-19. Anna also described how the shortage of vaccines in Uganda was causing a surge in dangerous home-made solutions. We drew on Anna’s blogs for several news bulletins which were widely read.
We were also grateful to our third Africa Fellow, Matthew, who revisiited the devastating outbreak of Ebola that swept his home country of Liberia between 2014 and 2015.
We asked Matthew to assess the impact on Ebola survivors, and tell us what might lie ahead for survivors of COVID-19. He responded with blogs that showed his writing and investigative skills. We learned that Ebola survivors were being blamed for spreading the coronavirus and accused of having “small brains." In another blog Matthew traced the Ground Zero of Ebola to a false rumor that a government clinic was selling kidneys – an eery precursor of today’s vaccine misinformation. Matthew scored one final coup by securing an interview with Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, the much-admired former President of Liberia who used the interview to criticize the West’s slow vaccine response.
We drew several conclusions from the fine work of Jeremiah, Anna and Matthew. We will continue to rely on experienced graduate students to work in the field and introduce us to hot-button new issues – as Jeremiah did with undocumented migration from West Africa. Fellows can also coordinate several start-ups in the same country, as Anna did in Uganda, and provide us with photos and video footage that is hard to come with remotely.
Most important, they will need the ability to make friends.
Sixteen fellows have worked for AP remotely this year. Once again they were a marvel of diversity.
The team included our first-ever Fellows from High School (Grace and Nina); undergraduates from Turkey, Iraq, Nepal, Liberia, India; and first-generation Americans from Vietnam, Cape Verde, India, and Ukraine. Prabal, a long-time friend from Nepal who was stranded in the US by the lockdown also came on board to provide remote support to a partner in Nepal that was battling the pandemic. Prabal took advantage of his enforced stay in the US to visit the ocean for the first time (photo).
Several of those who worked remotely provided back-up to the three Fellows in Africa and all produced quality blogs. Beliz (Pomona College) drew on her weekly remote meetings with Matthew in Liberia to write a powerful blog comparing the stigma caused by HIV-AIDS, COVID-19 and Ebola. Avyan, who backed up Jeremiah in Senegal, wrote a searing blog about her personal experience of being forced into marriage in Kurdistan.
Each remote Fellow was also assigned to a start-up. This meant a weekly Zoom with the partner to monitor progress, advise and encourage. It worked well with the exception of northern Uganda, where the closure of primary schools left us scrambling to find a slot for an accomplished Fellow back home. Two Fellows have stayed on to support their partners, showing their interest and dedication.
Reviewing this experimental year, it is clear that working remotely carries as much responsibility as serving in the field. We also understand that the qualities we need most in Fellows - creativity, adaptability, perseverance – apply equally to remote or in-person fellowships. Take Nina, 17, who organized her High School friends to make soap on behalf of girls in Zimbabwe. Nina’s team raised over $600 in a weekend and showed - like Grace - that High School students can be very effective. It all comes down to skill, character and commitment.
AP has certainly been the beneficiary. Several key posts at AP are now filled by former interns or Fellows who did outstanding work for us in the past. Jonathan (University of Maryland) designs our quilt catalogues. Gio (George Washington) edits our videos. Delaney (UC San Diego) coordinates all of our projects. Abby (University of Illinois) manages our website and coordinates quilt exhibits. Three former Fellows – Devin, Talley and Colleen – sit on our Board, as does our former fellowship coordinator Karen.
In short, our fellowship program remains a central part of our history and organizational culture, in spite of the pandemic.
Perhaps the single most important take-away from 2022 is that personal friendships matter more to our partners than technical assistance. This is because they face discrimination and poverty every day of their lives - COVID-19 is simply one more challenge to be overcome. Ram, our partner in Nepal who heads a network of families that lost relatives to the disappearances, put it like this in a podcast: “Families of the disappeared have been living through a pandemic for the last twenty years.”
As a result, we will continue to place the highest premium on friendship. Yes, these partners will need technical support to tell their stories, form an association, develop budgets, set goals and eventually manage projects. But this can also happen remotely. Zoom provides us with the tool and Fellows do not need to be present in person to supply a creative spark, give advice or offer friendship.
This ensures a rich experience for the Fellows themselves. As Beliz wrote in her farewell appreciation: “(This fellowship) has allowed me to meet amazing people around the world this summer!” We will be looking for more standouts like Beliz as we recruit for 2022 and beyond.
Let us end by thanking you again for supporting our amazing Fellows! We wish you a wonderful holiday and a productive new year.
The AP team.
This report is being sent to 212 friends of The Advocacy Project who have supported out fellowship program, Fellows for Peace, through GlobalGiving. With your help, we have raised $35,166.26 for the program and deployed 316 graduate students to more than 40 countries since 2003. Thank you!
June is normally our favorite month of the year, because this is when we recruit Peace Fellows for the summer. We particularly look forward to the week of training in Washington, because it brings everyone together in one place before they head out and builds team spirit.
COVID-19 put a stop to that in 2020. This year we have taken some baby steps back to normality and sent three graduate students out to Africa (sadly, without the training), but even this has been anything but smooth sailing. Thankfully it has been a different story here in the US where ten talented Fellows are working remotely from home and doing a fine job.
This report will review both parts of our fellowship program, in the field and in the US. We hope to show that it remains as creative as ever, in spite of – or maybe because of – the pandemic.
Taking on Migration, Ebola, and Sexual Slavery in Africa
The three brave souls who took on assignments in Africa are Matthew, Anna and Jeremiah. All three are studying for a Masters degree at the Fletcher School at Tufts University.
Matthew (photo), a Liberian national, returned to his home country to help survivors of Ebola recall their experience of the epidemic through embroidery. As we explain later in this report, story-telling through stitching offers a great way to launch a start-up with a new partner and is enormously popular with women. Matthew also hopes to learn some lessons from Ebola about the challenges that will face survivors of COVID-19.
Anna went to Gulu, in northern Uganda, to support a long-standing partner, the Gulu Disabled Persons Union which has – with our help – launched start-ups to make soap and masks. Anna also established a new partnership with Women in Action for Women, an association for Ugandan women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Lord’s Resistance Army in the 1990s and have still not recovered. They too have decided to start with story-telling through embroidery.
Our third Fellow from the Fletcher School, Jeremiah (photo) is in Senegal working with former migrants who risked their lives to escape to Europe but have been forced to return home. They will also describe their ordeal through embroidery. We hope to learn what prompted them to leave, what they faced on the journey, and whether they plan to try again. Jeremiah’s research may also throw some light on other migration hot-spots like the southern border of the US. His latest blog, entitled Barcelona or Death, suggests that it will not be reassuring.
These three subjects – Ebola, sexual slavery and migration - have been selected by the local partners. We have embraced them with enthusiasm because of their importance and because they will provide our three Fellows with an opportunity for strong research.
In the same spirit, Savannah, an undergraduate at the University of Maryland, is researching the link between climate change and conflict for Children Peace Initiative Kenya (CPIK). Savannah is also advising us on how to nominate CPIK for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Tripped Up by COVID-19
This resumption of foreign travel, though modest, has been greatly complicated by the pandemic. Perhaps we should not have been surprised, because nothing about COVID-19 has been predictable. But we never expected to see such a sudden spike in infections in Africa, where Fellows are working this summer.
This has caused all manner of problems - some serious, others less so. Anna almost missed her flight to Uganda because KLM demanded a COVID test and result within 24 hours of her departure. In spite of being fully vaccinated, Anna then faced the ethical question of whether she might unwittingly be endangering her hosts. She left the decision to her hosts, who were desperate for renewed contact with the outside world. But this did not save Anna from being accused of having a “white savior” complex, after she discussed her dilemma in a blog.
Anna then faced a much more serious challenge. Infection rates began to soar in Uganda within days of her arrival, and the government imposed a lockdown for 42 days. One of Anna’s Ugandan team members, who heads the soap-making project, came down with the virus.
With less than 1% of Ugandans fully vaccinated, this was not the time for Anna to take chances. It also became clear that she would be denied the opportunity to work alongside partners and produce the interviews, photos and profiles that make our fellowships doubly rewarding. Anna managed to celebrate her birthday with Emma and Victoria, two inspiring partners in Uganda, (photo) before heading home. This was a huge disappointment.
Anna's return has forced us to regroup and re-assign projects. After being been repeatedly caught off-guard by COVID-19 we will also keep a close eye on the pandemic in Vietnam, Nepal, Mali, Liberia, Uganda, Kenya, and Zimbabwe where we support partners. All seven countries are ill-equipped to respond to the new wave. None of them manufactures vaccines, and their health systems are fragile.
Marginalized communities are particularly vulnerable: when we asked girls in poor neighborhoods of Harare to describe their experience of COVID last summer, their stories were all about police brutality.
There is a limit to what The Advocacy Project can do, but we are collecting first-hand information from partners and hope to make a noise about the scandalously slow rate at which vaccines are reaching the Global South. This is a massive moral failure by the North.
Expanding Support for Start-ups
The pandemic may have led to reduced opportunities for graduate students, but it has also opened up exciting new possibilities for our Fellows here in the US and even enabled us to invest in more projects abroad.
First, a little about the Fellows. We have received around 35 applications this year and accepted 19 so far. The Fellows are, as always, wonderfully diverse. Three are first generation Americans, whose families came from Vietnam, the Ukraine and Cape Verde. Seven were born abroad, in Iraq, Liberia, Nepal, Turkey and India. Our youngest Fellow, Nina, 16, is still at High School. The team is managed by Abby (just graduated from the University of Illinois) and Delaney (University of California San Diego). Both joined AP as Fellows and got hooked.
This large and talented team represents a wonderful resource for our partners, and of course with the pandemic surging the need is greater than ever. These seem like two good arguments for doing more not less, and we are currently supporting 18 start-ups in 10 countries. So far this year, we have transferred around $31,000 to partners, of which $16,000 came from donors and the rest from our own core funds. This is far more than last year.
Here’s how it works. Once our team approves a request, we will help the partner to develop a plan and budget for 3-6 months and invest between $500 and $1,000. A Peace Fellow will be assigned to the project and asked to meet with the partner on Zoom or WhatsApp every week to review progress. If the start-up meets its goals, we may help the partner to develop a long-term plan and seek larger funding, as we did with Children Peace Initiative in Kenya and Women Advocacy Project in Zimbabwe.
Only two of our grants this year have been emergency hand-outs. The rest are funding some of the most innovative start-ups we have ever helped to launch. They include the first-ever composting project by women in the informal settlement of Kibera, Nairobi; a program to conduct COVID-19 testing and improve access to vaccines in 60 villages in Nepal; the purchase of a fishing boat in Bangladesh that will improve the nutrition of River Gypsies; and training for the parents of children with albinism in Kenya.
Several of the new start-ups will use embroidery to tell stories which – as we noted above – is empowering for survivors of trauma and can make a powerful statement. The first squares to reach us this summer have been made by the women in Uganda who survived sexual slavery. Our Peace Fellow Anna almost broke into tears when she saw them.
Parallel to this, Fellows have also helped to take our program of advocacy quilting in exciting new directions. Over 200 artists from Zimbabwe, Nepal, the US, and Kenya have told their story of COVID-19 through stitching. We recently displayed their art at the first-ever digital exhibition of quilts.
These activities and projects would have been a lot more difficult without the help of our Peace Fellows in the US.
As well as assigning them projects, we also give Fellows tasks that match their skills and interests.
For example, Nina, 16, is working with friends from her High School in Georgia to make Clean Girl soap like the girls in Zimbabwe: any profits will help the Zimbabwe girls complete school. Beliz (photo) is using Tik Tok, while also supporting the composting project in Nairobi. Grace, 18, was featured on PBS for making face-masks during the pandemic in the US (photo); she is now advising Mama Cave, a tailor with limited mobility in Uganda who also makes her own face-masks. Miriam, in New Haven, is indulging her passion for Canva by designing a catalogue of advocacy quilts. We are proud that AP can encourage such creativity.
But working remotely in such a large team with partners all over the world has also strengthened AP as an organization, by making us all more disciplined about communications and respectful of other team members. The first prize should probably go to Delaney in California, who rises at 6.00 am on most mornings to attend meetings with partners from Asia and Africa. Some of us are on Zoom for more than five hours a day, five days a week.
Looking back, it’s hard to think of a summer when so much good work was done by our team in the US. This cannot substitute for personal contact in the field, but it does mean that when international travel fully resumes – as it will – we will be well placed to provide great back-up.
Your support helps to make it all possible. Thank you again.
We'll be back in touch early in the Fall. In the meantime, please stay safe and enjoy the summer!
The AP team
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