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Students earn grant to promote global peace

April 05, 2012

  • Hannah J. McCain ’12

Portland, Maine

For the sixth year in a row, Lewis & Clark students have earned a competitive grant from philanthropist Kathryn W. Davis’s 100 Projects for Peace Initiative. Over the summer, students Hannah McCain ’12 and Nima Mohamed ’15 will promote youth engagement for Somali girls living in Portland, Maine.

The grant program encourages undergraduate students to design grassroots projects to be undertaken around the world. Each year since the program’s inception, Lewis & Clark students have earned the coveted $10,000 grants to pursue projects addressing diverse challenges, including providing clean water in Ethiopia and educating residents about human rights in Morocco [PDFs].

Learn more about this year’s winning project in this interview with project cocreator Hannah McCain ’12.

Hannah J. McCain ’12
Major: Religious Studies
Hometown: Yarmouth, Maine

How did your group decide to focus on youth engagement for Somali girls, and how did you select Portland, Maine for the site of your project?

The focus on Somali girls in Portland, Maine, came, for me, as a result of a few overlapping strands of interest. First, I’m a religious studies major who has chosen to focus on the Abrahamic faiths generally and the Islamic faith particularly. I’ve always been amazed by the diversity of manifestations of Islam, and I’ve been intrigued to see a growing Muslim community in my own hometown’s backyard.

Somalis began coming to Maine as internal migrants in the year 2000, but it’s only been in the past few years that I have been beginning to understand what an interesting and valuable presence they are in my homogeneous home state. Conversations with ESL teachers in the Portland public school system made me realize, however, that this new population was not always having an easy time assimilating in Maine.

Now, the idea of assimilation as something to be positively valued can be questioned, but I definitely think that feeling comfortable and safe in the city and state you live in is unquestionably a valuable thing. That’s why I decided to design a project that would help Somali girls recognize that they are a valuable aspect of a growing intercultural dialogue in Maine.

The focus is on girls in particular because many Somali parents are uncomfortable with the idea of coed programming. Maybe Somali girls are more comfortable in single-sex environments, too. That’s something I’ll find out. I’m looking forward to engaging these girls—14 and 15 year olds—in dialogue. I think that respecting cultural and religious values will be hugely important in this program because, again, it’s not about assimilation so much as building comfortable, confident citizens.

How do you think your Lewis & Clark education has influenced your project?

Lewis & Clark made me aware of my privilege—I’m white, able bodied, straight, etc., and very privileged as a result of all this—and equipped me with the intellectual tools I need to begin to interrogate this privilege.

This process of interrogation made me realize that, at least for me personally, it is only through praxis—that is, putting theory into practice—that I will be able to come to terms with this privilege. I can’t just recognize that I have it and move on. I need to engage with the world, admit that I am privileged, and start to work to create a society in which no one is privileged above anyone else. This is idealistic, sure, but I don’t think that it’s a bad thing to have idealistic goals as long as they are tempered with a dose of pragmatism. So my goals are ultimately idealistic, but for the moment they are quite realistic: change the lives of a few girls in Maine.

Lewis & Clark also gave me fantastic teachers—Paul Powers (religious studies), Oren Kosansky (anthropology), Mo Healy (history), and Marty Hart-Landsberg (economics), to name a few—who have been endlessly inspiring to me. Without their insights into religion, geography, identity, modernity, and society, I would have never been able to envision a project like the one Nima and I designed.


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