Posted: May 7, 2008
When Emily Usher Shrair '08, a gender studies and international relations major, spent spring of her junior year studying at the School for International Training in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she never imagined that she would be returning a year later to implement an ambitious project to assist battered and homeless women.
Thanks to a grant from Davis Projects for Peace, Shrair will be back in the Argentine capital this summer setting up a computer learning resource center and child-care center at the Sol Naciente (Rising Sun) home for single mothers and homeless and abused women. The center is on the edge of the city's largest and most violent ghetto, Villa 1-11-14.
In May 2007, at the end of her study abroad program, Shrair began doing research and volunteer work at Sol Naciente. She spent four months working with its directors, coordinators, and community volunteers, learning about the organization and working with shelter's residents. "The majority of the women living in the shelter are single mothers from poor neighborhoods all over Buenos Aires and also from neighboring countries, often as young as 15 with usually only an elementary school or high school education," Shrair explained. While the shelter provides for their basic needs, they have no job training or child care, and it is extremely difficult for them to achieve financial independence.
Shrair was inspired to launch her project when she began teaching the shelter residents how to use the computer so that they could make contact with their home communities and stay in touch with her via email. "They were so adept and learned so quickly," Shrair said. "I realized they could be taught computer skills and find work." But she also realized that most of the women had small children and needed childcare support while they were in training and seeking employment.
"These young women have been so important to me," Shrair said. "Working with them was so profoundly moving. They have literally nothing but the clothes on their backs. They get no support from families who have abandoned and abused them. But they are so eager to learn and to help their kids. I hope this community project can give them skills that they can pass on to other women."
Shrair plans to staff the computer learning center with volunteers from the outside community and to train women living in the nearby ghetto to care for the shelter children as well as their own. Her goal is to make the centers self-sufficient. "My role is to organize it and raise funds. Any grassroots project needs to be integrated in all sectors of the community to be successful."
To publicize her project, which she calls Project Rising Women, and coordinate fundraising efforts, Shrair is creating a Web site. Because of the exchange rate, she said, even a small contribution of U.S. dollars will have a huge effect.
Kathryn Wasserman Davis, a lifelong internationalist and philanthropist who is now more than 100 years old, funds Davis Projects for Peace. The organization invites students at colleges and universities affiliated with the Davis United World College Scholars Program to design their own grassroots projects for peace that they themselves will implement anywhere in the world during the summer of 2008. Through a competition on more than 85 campuses, 100 projects were selected for funding at $10,000 each.