Lexington, Virginia • April 8, 2011
Uri Whang, a student at Washington and Lee University from Collierville, Tenn., has won a $10,000 grant from the Davis Projects for Peace 2011. The award will enable Whang to help North Korean refugees better integrate into South Korean society. Her project is called Benefitting All Children in Korea (BACK) and will focus on educating North Korean children and adults by providing skills, resources and guidance for higher education.
A sophomore double major in classics and politics, Whang said that she has always been interested in North Korea as her grandparents fled from North Korea to Seoul during the Korean War. “But it wasn’t until I interned with Teach for America in Atlanta, Ga., last summer that I was really inspired to beginthis project and make my ideas a reality,” she said.
She explained in her application that countless refugees have escaped from North Korea through the Chinese border and made their way into South Korea. “Although they may have successfully fled a dictatorial rule, they still face discrimination, hardship and, in many cases, poverty and lack of education,” she wrote. “BACK will put these refugees on a fairer playing field and ensure a better way for them to adapt to South Korean society.”
Whang has been in South Korea since February on a study abroad program and will remain there until the end of the summer to set up the BACK project. She will do so in partnership with the Council on International Educational Exchange program at Yonsei University, which has taught Korean refugees in the past. Whang also plans to include college students as volunteers to help children learn English, providing an additional skill to help them find work.
BACK will not focus solely on education. “You can’t just throw books and tutors at refugees who come from devastating backgrounds,” Whang wrote in her application. “We will also provide mentoring, or coaching, to empower them and provide them with the confidence necessary for their success.”
“I’ve been working very hard for the past few weeks coordinating the logistics and meeting with different people and administrators on behalf of BACK,” Whang wrote in an e-mail. “I am so excited that with this grant I will have the support to not only launch this project but hopefully also make it last and grow.”
“In the long run, I hope to form partnerships with colleges and provide training and incentives for our volunteers with the support of Korean corporations,” she added. She has been keeping a blog of her experiences with the BACK project at http://thebackproject.livejournal.com/.
Projects for Peace is part of the Davis United World College Scholars Program, based in Middlebury, Vt. Kathryn Wasserman Davis, a philanthropist and the widow of Shelby Cullom Davis, a businessman and former United States ambassador to Switzerland, has put up $1 million in each of the past four years to fund 100 Projects for Peace.
Now 104 years old, Kathryn Wasserman Davis launched the initiative on the occasion of her 100th birthday in 2007 to challenge college students to undertake meaningful and innovative projects. Designed to encourage and support motivated youth to create and implement their ideas for building peace through the world in the 21th century, each of the projects receives $10,000 in funding each year.
W&L is one of more than 90 colleges and universities eligible to receive funds from the Davis Projects for Peace because they participate in the Davis program, which provides scholarships to students who attend the United World Colleges, a series of international high schools around the world.
This is the fourth year in a row that a W&L student has won one of the grants. Previous winners were Anne Gleason of the Class of 2007 who received the award for starting a “Healthy Community Curry Kitchen” in Sri Lanka; Andrew McWay, a 2008 graduate whose proposal involved microfinance in Peru; Sally (Logan) Gibson ‘08 who organized the first library in Rwamagana, Rwanda; Eduardo Rodriguez of the Class of 2009, who used his prize to set up a language laboratory in his home town of Pehuajo, Argentina; and Cailin Slattery, a current W&L senior, who has established a microfinance initiative with women entrepreneurs in northern Haiti.