Weissbuch ’11 Receives Davis Projects Grant

Mount Holyoke College senior Mika Weissbuch ’11 has been awarded a prestigious $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant to engage Nicaraguan youth through radio and digital storytelling.

“The project is a means of community building and will hopefully inspire young leaders and role models,” Weissbuch said. “By sharing individual and collective stories about what they are experiencing, the youth will foster dialogues about critical issues in their community.”

Weissbuch will train 29 young people living in Nicaragua’s Acahualinca district, which is home to La Chureca—a municipal landfill that stretches over 100 acres. Area residents contend with health problems related to toxic smoke from burning garbage and heavy metals that leach into the soil and ground water. Additionally, Weissbuch said, many local youth do not attend school due to inadequate educational opportunities and financial difficulties, and often turn to drugs or crime instead.

“I studied abroad in Nicaragua and did research in and around the municipal dump, so I got to know many residents who lived in Acahualinca,” Weissbuch said. “The project grew out of many conversations I had with community organizers who wanted to empower youth and promote positive values in their community.”

Weissbuch is currently taking classes in radio and digital storytelling to help prepare her lesson plans, and will be working with a recent graduate from the University of Nicaragua who holds a degree in communications to train students. The group will also visit a local radio station that has agreed to partner with the project.

Davis Projects for Peace encourages college students at more than 90 participating schools to develop grassroots projects that promote peace and address the root causes of conflict. The grant program is funded by 104-year-old philanthropist Kathryn W. Davis.

MHC national fellowships and graduate school advisor Elizabeth Mandeville, who helped Weissbuch craft her Davis grant proposal, called Weissbuch a tremendous advocate for social justice.

“We are delighted that Mika has won a Davis Projects for Peace award,” Mandeville said. “Her project is meaningful, well-designed, and deeply relevant to the community with whom she plans to work in Nicaragua. Mika’s Davis award recognizes her enormous potential and invests in her as an agent of change.”

Weissbuch will have the opportunity to work with other agents of change, before she heads to Nicaragua, at next month’s Clinton Global Initiatives University meeting in San Diego. Thanks to funding from the Weissman Center for Leadership and the Liberal Arts and the president’s office, Weissbuch will attend workshops and network with experts and other students who are working on their own projects to create social change.