May 30, 2008

Students provide aid, promote peace for Brazilian orphans

(Portland, Ore.)—The most fragile residents of an impoverished Brazilian community will receive an influx of support this summer from four Lewis & Clark students and grants totaling $12,500.

(Portland, Ore.)—The most fragile residents of an impoverished Brazilian community will receive an influx of support this summer from four Lewis & Clark students and grants totaling $12,500. Sixty children and adolescents, many of whom were abandoned out of economic desperation, inhabit the humble Criamar orphanage in Ceilândia, Brazil, where the Lewis & Clark students will live this summer.

The students, seniors Casey Nelson and James Cotton and sophomores Betto van Waarden and Claire Battaglia, will establish community programs, communication and reconciliation workshops, facility improvements, and an interactive learning center in the interest of helping Criamar residents overcome the effects of neglect and abuse and become peaceful contributors to society.

With funding from philanthropist Kathryn Wasserman Davis’s 100 Projects for Peace initiative, the group members will draw on their diverse backgrounds, interests, and skills to achieve their goals.

“We came together around this project because it offered an opportunity for all of us to use our knowledge and talent to accomplish the most possible good,” Nelson, a sociology/anthropology and biology double major, said. “We’ll be able to do much more than just donate money—we’ll be working alongside the staff and volunteers and bringing our experiences and education to bear on the problems facing Criamar.”

The group designed its project around providing the most sustainable impact with the time and money at hand. They will use the grant money—$10,000 from 100 Projects for Peace and an additional $2,500 from Lewis & Clark—to purchase computers, educational software, supplementary food, recreation equipment, renovation supplies, landscaping materials, and chickens.

“Each component of our project will generate long-lasting effects within the orphanage,” Battaglia, a political science major, said. “For example, giving the children access to computers will meet immediate needs for additional educational opportunities, but the technological aptitude they gain will also translate into valuable job skills in the future.”

The group also hopes to inspire social change in the community by cultivating connections between the orphans and neighborhood children, in the spirit of fun and recreation.

“It’s critical that the Criamar children get to connect with other kids in their area,” van Waarden, a history major, said. “In all the countries I’ve traveled to, soccer has consistently been a way to connect with people. We think that bringing together children from the orphanage and children from the surrounding community to play soccer will encourage that same kind of bond.”

Now in its second year, the 100 Projects for Peace initiative will allow students to undertake projects in the name of peace in more than 54 countries throughout the world this summer.

“The initiative is the perfect way for Lewis & Clark students to use their liberal arts education, their critical thinking and communication skills, and their creativity to solve problems and promote peace,” Greg Caldwell, associate dean of students and director of International Students and Scholars, said. “Lewis & Clark students want to change the world, and the 100 Projects for Peace initiative gives them a chance to do just that.”

Lewis & Clark students submitted 15 project proposals this year, more than doubling the total last year. Members of the group heading to Brazil argue that even the process of writing a grant proposal increases global awareness on campus.

“This initiative opens up serious discourse on so many levels,” Cotton, a biology major, said. “Students are forced to ask themselves, ‘How do you decide what constitutes the greatest need?’ ‘Where do you think you can make the biggest difference?’ ‘What do you think is the best way to do it?’”

Battaglia and van Waarden hope to continue that discussion when they return to Lewis & Clark in the fall, sharing their lessons in classes and symposia, and advising future program applicants.

UPDATE: Read dispatches from the group’s summer in Brazil and see pictures of Criamar on their blog, Cultivating Peace.