By Warren Glynn '15
Efforts to help local communities in the Ivory Coast city of Bouake rebuild in the aftermath of two separate civil wars have earned two Franklin & Marshall College students a prestigious Projects for Peace grant.
Mawupemor "Kofi" Alorzuke '16 and Nadine Zoro '16 developed a project titled L'Union Fait la Force, or Unity Is Strength, with the aim of engaging Ivorian youth in leadership-building activities in communities known as "the war capital" of the country. The coaching project is an extension of Zoro's own organization, Project Ivorian Leadership, which she formed before arriving at F&M in 2012.
"We want to provide local youth with a social experience that prepares them for the future," Zoro said. "They can help the country develop."
Unity Is Strength is one of 127 projects at 91 colleges and universities to receive funding from the Projects for Peace foundation, a national organization formed by philanthropist Kathryn W. Davis on her 100th birthday in 2007. The program, which has continued since Davis' death at 106 in 2013, supports student-led initiatives that seek to resolve conflicts and foster community building around the world. Alorzuke, an economics major, and Zoro, a business, organizations and society major, received $10,000 for their project.
"We need new ideas for old problems," said Associate Dean for Multicultural Affairs Marion Coleman, who oversaw this year's submissions to the foundation. "And I've been impressed with the wide range of issues and concerns around the world in which our students are interested."
Zoro and Alorzuke stressed the importance of engaging youth in peace-building efforts.
"Forty percent of the Ivorian population is under 18," said Alorzuke. "This high youth population possesses great potential, potential which either can be manipulated to the benefit or detriment of the country. We're giving them more opportunities to go for the good one."
The Ivory Coast has suffered from a number of conflicts since 1999, resulting in civil wars that ravaged the country from 2002 through 2007 and again from 2010 to 2011. During the interim period, the country remained split in two, with Bouake sandwiched between rebel and government-held territories.
Zoro and Alorzuke are building plans for workshops to inspire Ivorian youth to help their communities long after the summer program is complete, including offering mentoring advice on Facebook and encouraging them to apply to the African Leadership Academy, a prestigious secondary school in South Africa that accepts students from across the African continent. Zoro is an alumna of the school.
In addition, Alorzuke, who attended the SOS Hermann Gmeiner International College in Ghana, aims to bring a version of the Unity Is Strength program to his own country.
"If you look at the statistics for African countries, they're very similar," he said. "They all have high youth populations, so we'd like to spread this to new countries and make it a Pan-African endeavor."
The students said they were pleased by the outpouring of support they received from the College and campus community, including advice from their professors and the Ware Institute for Civic Engagement, which creates connections between the classroom and the community through community-based learning courses, internships and service trips.
"Being at F&M means being around open-minded people," Zoro said. "Being around people with different experiences has been an important experience in itself."