In December of 2020, Concordia College sophomore, Aya Al-Shakarchi, applied for a Projects for Peace Grant, simply hoping for the chance to make a change in the world. In July of 2021, she did just that.
During Aya Al-Shakarchi’s sophomore year at Concordia, she discovered the “Davis Projects for Peace” grant. This program is partnered with Concordia College as a way to promote the connection of students to the rest of the world, and allow them the opportunity to organize their own projects and/or programs that support Concordia’s mission statement. Aya applied for the grant, and by March, was awarded $10,000 to put together a program of her choice. She would put together a proposal of her ideas, and submit them for approval. Soon after, she was organizing her own mentorship program, connecting female students at Concordia with female students in Iraq.
The program that Aya organized was entitled “Girls Lead for Peace.” This organization consisted of 24 Iraqi girls split up amongst five volunteer mentors from Concordia College. Once her proposal was approved, Aya began creating and organizing lesson plans and discussion topics for when the program would take place. These lesson plans consisted of conversations and assignments regarding culture and identity mainly, while also discussing educational differences, roles of women in different cultures, and how to make a change in society.
When putting together the program, Aya found it difficult to find mentors to give up half of their summers to participate in the program. The whole program would take place in English, which also made it difficult to find Iraqi students that would be able to participate. Despite these challenges, Aya was able to gather more than enough participants for Girls Lead for Peace.
The first meeting with the Iraqi mentees took place at the very end of June 2021 and continued until the first week of August 2021. A typical week would consist of check-ins by the mentors to remind the participants of what was due at the end of the week. These would be simple messages, not video calls. Saturdays were the main meeting days. These meetings would begin with icebreakers and team-building exercises to get the small groups ready for discussion. Each meeting would revolve around a prompt such as “womanhood and cultural identity, educational path and careers.” The girls would watch TED Talks or do readings regarding the prompt, and a discussion would be had within the group.
Over the month that Girls Lead for Peace took place, the mentors and students grew very close. The impact the program had was felt on both sides. The difficulties that women in education systems face are felt universally, so these girls having the opportunity to share their experiences and recognize their identity and importance in the world was crucial to their growth. Danika Vukovich is a student at Concordia who had the opportunity to be a mentor for the Iraqi girls over the summer. When asked what the biggest takeaway from the experience was, Vukovich said “Even though we were halfway across the world from each other, we were a family.”
Now, Aya Al-Shakarchi is in her third year at Concordia. She recounts the experience as one that shaped her views and mindset, as well as her work ethic and organization skills. Aya encourages any and all students to apply for the Projects for Peace grant, no matter their experience level. For more information regarding grants or scholarships offered by Concordia college, visit the Concordia website, under the “Fellowships and Scholarships” page. For more information regarding the Projects for Peace grant, contact Matt Beatty or Jon Leiseth.