Four Earlham students won $10,000 grants for summer peace projects in South Korea, Nepal and Richmond.
While North Korea’s denuclearization, a peace treaty between North and South Korea, and a summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un make the headlines, two Earlham students are working toward peace for North Korean refugees that have escaped to South Korea.
Gyeongeun “Krystal” Lee ’20 and Hyeonji “Hannah” Kim ’21 won $10,000 from the Davis Peace Prize for their project entitled “Peace for Adolescent North Korean Refugees in South Korea.”
Because of political oppression and a lack of food and opportunities, North Koreans have steadily landed in South Korea, where they can apply for refugee status and receive help.
“The government gives them homes, education and job training, so they get put in the system,” says Lee, a math major. “But when we looked into it, we found that a lot of mental and physical illnesses were caused by a lack of social and cultural adaptation.
“Thinking about all these things, we asked ourselves what could we do.”
After digging deeper in their research, they found that the adaptation problem was more pronounced for younger refugees.
“We saw that the responsibility of getting a job helped the adults, but many of the younger refugees were failing to adjust during adolescence,” says Kim, a psychology major. “When they become adults, they were still living in the past and were bitter and angry. We decided that we want to help adolescents adjust to society more smoothly, so that they transition more easily into adulthood. We saw this as a real urgent need.”
Their project aims to create community between South Koreans and the North Korean refugees through educational and social activities spanning five weeks in July and August for both North Korean refugees and South Korean high school-aged students. Workshops include “Social Interaction,” “Confidence and Communication,” and “We are Koreans,” which will be lead by Kim and Lee based on their adaptation experiences in attending high schools in the U.S.
“It will cover the difficult nature of societal adaptation and the ways we have found useful to transition and adapt in a new place,” Lee says. “We have been in the same situation, and we saw how important the social/cultural part is. We feel like we can relate, and we can share how we overcame. A community or club, anything small would have helped.”
Kim says that oftentimes South Koreans hold stereotypes and think negatively about all of North Korea, when it’s only the government and its activities that should generate the bad feelings.
“My mom always says, ‘What if we had been born in North Korea?’” Lee says.
“One of the purposes of our project is that we want the two groups to form a community, and that can’t be accomplished until the South Korean students make changes in their perspectives.”
“Back home we see too many news stories about North Korea, and now it has spread, and I hear about it here in the United States,” Lee says. “What about the people of North Korea? I’m concerned about them. World War III is not the solution. Our hope is to break barriers and for people to realize that we are different but also the same. We don’t have to be enemies.”
STEM Gender Equality in Nepal and Richmond
To be more aware of opportunities while growing up near Richmond, Megan Bennett ’20 wanted more female role models in the STEM fields, while in Nepal, Anmol Lamichhane ’18 watched his three sisters and other female students face gender discrimination while pursuing STEM fields.
To help encourage and facilitate women in STEM, Bennett and Lamichhane won $10,000 from Earlham for their project “Building Female STEM Communities in Indiana and Nepal.
Lamichhane, who has a double major in math and physics, also was a volunteer high school science teacher in Nepal in 2013, and while there, he saw that girls interested in science were often underestimated by their peers and teachers.
“When the girls expressed opinions in class, their ideas were less valued or deemed less legitimate as their male counterparts,” he says. “I hoped to contribute something that would help balance this inequality.”
“Looking back, I wish I had more of a support system,” says Bennett, an English major and physics minor. “A lot of my teachers and professors were men, and being a first-generation college student, I didn’t know what to expect.”
Their project includes summer camps for high school girls in Richmond, Ind., and in Pokhara, Nepal. Each camp includes two seminars: a STEM Empowerment Seminar (SES), which will highlight the local problem of general inequality in STEM and show resources available to work toward eliminating the discrepancy. A second seminar is entitled Cross-Continental Seminar (CCS) and will connect the girls in the two camps to initiate dialog and eventually create a Global Female STEM Club.
The SES in Richmond will feature women professors from Earlham and other local women in STEM, and the CCS will show each group the shared obstacles women face in STEM fields.
Through blogs, video calls, handwritten letters and social media, participants will continue to be in touch.
Bennett will organize and oversee a Global Female STEM Club for area high school students including Richmond and Muncie, in the fall, while the LEO Club at Janapriya High School in Pokhara will do the same.
“They are two different locations with the same problem, but there are different reasons the problem exists,” Lamichhane says. “We hope that together, both sides, can work together to tackle the problem globally.”
The Davis Projects for Peace began in 2007 on the occasion of philanthropist Kathryn W. Davis’ 100th birthday. Until her death at 106 in 2013, Davis was intent on advancing the cause of peace and sought to motivate tomorrow’s leaders by challenging them to find ways to work to “prepare for peace.” The Davis family continues to honor her legacy by funding Projects for Peace.
Each year Earlham funds an additional summer Peace Project.