Six New Lang Opportunity Scholars Will
Create Projects Around the Globe
by Susan Clarey
As the newest recipients of the Eugene M. Lang Opportunity Scholarship, six Swarthmore sophomores will be tackling social-action projects around the globe."Our scholars in the Class of 2014 will undertake Opportunity projects as nearby as Chester and as far away as India and Vietnam," says Joy Charlton, executive director of the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility. "In every location, they'll have the chance to create a needed social resource or effect a significant social change. We are pleased to be able to support them."
Selection criteria for Lang Opportunity Scholarships include distinguished academic and extra-curricular achievement, leadership qualities, and demonstrated commitment to civic and social responsibility. Each scholar receives a guaranteed summer internship, educational enhancement funds, and the opportunity to apply for up to $10,000 to create a project that addresses a social problem. Students who successfully complete a project are also eligible for up to $5,000 each year for graduate studies, up to two years. The program was conceived and endowed by Eugene M. Lang '38.
Morgan Bartz will launch a zero waste program in classrooms in two Pennsylvania elementary schools, one in Swarthmore and the other in nearby Chester. Classrooms adopting zero waste programs will take significant steps to reduce, reuse, recycle, and compost materials, and they will consider ways to phase out materials that are unsustainable. While her program will focus on two classrooms, Bartz hopes that it will lead to schoolwide, zero-waste programs and garner support throughout Delaware County, where both schools are located. Currently, no local schools have adopted zero-waste initiatives, but models exist in California, Colorado, Illinois, and elsewhere.
Aarti Rao will work with The Bhoruka Charitable Trust (BCT) to expand the existing JnanaJyothi program. Located in Kalghatgi, an impoverished region in the Dharwad district in India, JnanaJyothi is a supplementary education center for the daughters of female sex workers whose purpose is to promote women’s empowerment and prevent sexual exploitation through education. Currently, there is one pilot center running in the central village of Kalghatgi. Girls from the ages of 9 through 15 attend the center six evenings a week and are taught math, the Kannada language, and English. Although the BCT provides van transportation to enable the girls in three neighboring villages to attend, access to the single central program remains limited. Concerned for their safety, many mothers hesitate to send their daughters for evening classes. Rao will collaborate with the BCT to design a more holistic curriculum and establish three additional “mini JnanaJyothi centers.”
Independent Thought & Social Action in India (ITSA India) is an education reform organization, cofounded by Riana Shah, that focuses on creating socially responsible youth leaders through critical thinking and social action. ITSA India conducted its first community needs assessment in summer 2010 and its first pilot project in summer 2011 with support from a Swarthmore Foundation grant. With the Lang Opportunity Scholarship, Shah will take ITSA India to the next level by creating a “tool kit” that includes a sustainable revenue model, a strong, field-tested curriculum, and an international exchange program that will allow replication of the ITSA model throughout South Asia. By providing workshops on topics such as identity, gender and social activism training, ITSA India offers high school and college students the tools they need to think reflectively and analytically about issues of social justice. ITSA India empowers youth to organize social action projects within their communities by helping them develop strong writing and communications skills, providing social action training, and providing mentors to help guide their social action projects. It is the first youth-led project of its kind in the state of Gujarat.
Mariana Stavig will expand a project she began in summer 2011 when, with the help of a Swarthmore Foundation grant, she created a girls’ group in the Tampa Bay area aimed at helping young Latinas realize their intelligence, strength, beauty, and potential. Since the 1970s, young women in the United States have experienced increasing dissatisfaction with their appearance and self-worth. Popular culture, the media, and personal and interpersonal pressures often combine to threaten a growing girl’s confidence, making her more susceptible to early and unsafe sex, drug abuse, body-image problems, and educational failure. The effects are exacerbated among young Latina women due to the complicated dynamics of poverty and marginalization that often exist in immigrant communities. Building on her original program, Stavig hopes to create multiple girls’ groups over the course of her college summers.
Akunna Uka will develop a program of General Education Development (GED) test preparation that will also include transition to post-secondary education. The program will serve Chester, Pa., adults who have dropped out of high school but are committed to continuing their education. The Chester Education Foundation (CEF) will host the program at its office in the Community Hospital, a central location easily accessible by public transportation. The planning phase of Uka’s project will involve creating a network of collaborating organizations, including not only the CEF but also GED educators and Communities-That-Care, a consortium of local organizations committed to the prevention of delinquency and violence.
Minh Vo believes that orphans, often considered an underachieving population in Vietnam, can enhance their life opportunities if they receive the support they need to improve their self-esteem before reaching adulthood. Orphans with a low self-esteem are at greater risk for juvenile delinquency, drug abuse, school underachievement, and unemployment. Working in conjunction with Gentle Fund Organization (GFO), a non-profit organization that runs a Learning Center on the campus of the all-boys orphanage Long Hoa in Ho Chi Minh City, Vo plans to create a youth club where the young orphans can be supported to make small-step achievements during adolescence and assume meaningful social roles and responsibilities through their supervised leadership in community service. The experiences of being in charge and establishing a track record of successes, Vo believes, are central to building high self-esteem and need to be made available to this vulnerable population.