This article originally appeared in the Middlebury Institute of International Studies Newsroom.

Left: black and white photo of Femi Higgins smiling. Right: color photo of Mohamed Ahmed smiling.
This summer, Femi Higgins MAIEM ’21, left, and Mohamed Ahmed MAIPD ’23 will use their $10,000 Project for Peace grants for community projects that promote peace, understanding, and social change.

Two proposals by Middlebury Institute students have been selected for $10,000 Projects for Peace grants to fund projects this summer.

One project will create an intercultural learning experience in the Minnesota Public Schools to help students and teachers become effective peace builders in the school community. The other will train young people in the Arab region to tackle critical peace issues.

Femi Higgins, who graduated from the Institute in 2021 with a master’s in international education management, received a grant for a proposal to create the Fostering Ethnic and Ethical Relationships (FEER) program, which is designed to improve the culture and climate of the Minnesota Public Schools (MPS). FEER will work in partnership with Education for Liberation MN (EdLib MN), a Minnesota nonprofit that promotes policies to protect the fundamental rights of minorities and hosts annual summer camps to support teacher development. 

“As a former teacher in MPS,” Higgins says, “I witnessed how schooling both causes and perpetuates social inequity and violence through the unequal distribution of power and resources.”

Together with EdLib MN, FEER will run a summer camp to train teachers and youth leaders on intercultural learning, human rights education, and nonviolent conflict resolution. After the FEER program ends, EdLib MN will continue to host summer camps using the FEER curriculum, while an alumni network will mentor and recruit new educators for the camp. “At the end,” Higgins says, “I hope to build a sound foundation for the FEER program to facilitate a more efficient and effective engagement and to mitigate identity-based violence in schools and the larger community, fostering peace and unity.”

Mohamed Ahmed, an international policy and development student, also received a 2022 Projects for Peace grant. His project, Peace Story, will be funded through the Kathryn Wasserman Davis Collaborative in Conflict Transformation, a $25-million, seven-year grant awarded to Middlebury by an anonymous donor with the goal of furthering the institution’s ongoing conflict transformation work.

Peace Story will take place in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria—countries with peace-related challenges and high numbers of young people—with a focus on Syrian refugees in Lebanon. It will encourage 25 participants, ages 18 to 25, to recognize their roles in promoting peace and preventing violent conflict. Ahmed notes in his proposal that youth account for roughly 30 percent of the total population of the Arab region. “Therefore,” he says, “engaging Arab youth in peace building and sustainable development could play a significant role in restoring and maintaining stability in the entire region as well as the world. To do so, youth need to incorporate the values and skills of civic education, dialogue, tolerance, and taking actions to be able to impact their communities and open spaces of cooperation.”

Building on his five years of peace-building experience, Ahmed has designed the project to offer both online and hybrid activities encompassing thematic training, experienced speakers, and nontraditional learning methods. Peace Story will include intensive workshops on creating and completing projects and will start a social initiative to connect with other active peers to foster cultural exchange. Peace Story will also feature a one-day online conference to share participants’ projects with policy makers and NGO leaders, and to inspire other young people in the region.

To ensure that the participants will have help sustaining their projects after Peace Story is finished, Ahmed has created a partnership with Peace First, an international organization that encourages young people around the world to lead social change in their communities. Additionally, he has designed an open-source curriculum that participants will be able to share in their communities. 

Projects for Peace is an initiative established in 2007 by the late philanthropist Kathryn Wasserman Davis. It is designed to spark innovative, entrepreneurial approaches to building meaningful prospects for peace around the world.