Adriana Popa '12 and Riana Shah '14 Receive Grant for Peacebuilding Workshops in India

By Linda Hou '13
Adriana Popa '12 and Riana Shah '14
Adriana Popa '12 and Riana Shah '14

Adriana Popa '12 and Riana Shah '14 are winners of a 2012 Davis Project for Peace grant to support their peacebuilding efforts in India this summer. They will use the $10,000 grant primarily to conduct workshops through (You)th for Peace, which they hope will promote cross-cultural dialogue and help combat stereotypes, fear, and intolerance, allowing students and their families to envision a common future of peace and cooperation.

Popa, an honors political science major and peace and conflict studies minor from Pitesti, Romania, has extensive experience in promoting peace through her past work with the Federation of Young European Greens, Genocide Intervention Network, Peace Child International, and Africa Change International. Last summer, she also served as an intern with the Romanian Permanent Mission at the United Nations. She says she sees similarities between the issues facing India and the tense coexistence of Romanians, Hungarians, and Germans in the Transylvania area of her home country.

"For years I had associated war with a pointed gun and peace with its absence," Popa says. "Through my education, I came to understand that war begins far away from the ammunition warehouses, the same place where peace is born: in people's hearts and minds. Peace begins with understanding, and education is the best tool for that."

Riana leads an ITSA workshop
Riana leads an ITSA workshop

(You)th for Peace is a natural extension of Shah's work on behalf of the nonprofit Independent Thought & Social Action in India (ITSA India), which she co-founded and co-directs with Jwalin Patel, a student at University College London, to foster independent thinking, social activism, and entrepreneurship in order to counter the passivity of the Indian education system. Shah's work with ITSA India is supported with a Lang Opportunity Scholar Grant from the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility.

"The curriculum in India is very test-driven and rote-memorization based and students don't really get the chance to participate in critical thinking, which is something that Swarthmore prizes and encourages," says Shah, a sociology/anthropology and educational studies major. "The workshops teach youth how to be leaders in their community by turning their ideas into action and creating their own social action projects. Starting in their communities, these youth are already changing the world!" 

Earlier this semester, Shah's work with ITSA India led to her joining 10 SustainUS Agents of Change delegates at meetings on poverty eradication with the U.N. Commission for Social Development. As a delegate, Shah had the opportunity to work with government officials, scientists, civil society representatives, and youth from around the world to review progress on issues related to social development and present case studies and policy statements to the government officials and peer delegates in attendance.