Authored by Leena El-Sadek
People tell seniors to take their final year easy. Apply for jobs, fellowships, and graduate schools, but do not start anything new or take any unnecessary classes. Enjoy the outdoors, under-load, travel, “relax.”
But as Duke students, we have a hard time following the status quo. We try new things and make sure our last lap is spent utilizing all the resources Duke has to offer. We don’t watch our final year go by—we celebrate it.
For me, I decided to spend my final year combining my research and interests into a tangible project. For the past three years, I have worked on refugee issues both domestically and internationally. My research has taken me to Jordan, Egypt and [soon] Oxford. I have also anchored down in Durham through a program I co-founded three years ago called SuWA: Supporting Women’s Action. SuWA is a student-organized community effort sponsored by the Kenan Institute for Ethics working to empower refugee women in Durham, North Carolina through education, small business development, and community building. The support and relationships present in the refugee community motivated the name SuWA, which is Iraqi for “togetherness.”
After witnessing some of the challenges these refugees had in the community, coupled with the recent attacks on Muslim communities all over the country, I decided to apply to Clinton Global Initiative University with a project to mitigate these challenges. Inspired by Conflict Kitchen and HONY, my project, called Conflict Cookbook, aims to empower Muslim immigrant and refugee women from conflict-torn countries. The story cookbook, both an online and print edition, will feature both the women’s recipes and stories in hopes of bridging the gap of understanding between Americans and majority Muslim, conflict-torn countries. Conflict Cookbook will also financially and socially empower the women by helping them generate income, language and business skills. Conflict Cookbook’s vision is to help facilitate relationships and reduce and eliminate stereotypes between the Western world and Muslim women through a unanimously appreciated vehicle of commonality and happiness—food.
After getting notice of my acceptance in January, I was invited to apply to a parallel program happening at CGI U called Resolution Project, which was founded in 2007 to develop and motivate university students so they can pursue socially responsible solutions to issues affecting communities around the world. Students are encouraged to think of a social venture that could move communities forward. The finalists of the fellowship are paired with mentors in their field and they are given grants to implement them.
Eager to actualize my goals, I applied to the Resolution Project. The application was a unique experience because it contained three parts, each with a separate deadline. The Resolution Project pushed me to think about all aspects of Conflict Cookbook, from my mission and aims to my budget and logo. It took me a little over a month to complete the application, and after 3 weeks of review, I was selected as a semi-finalist. The next round of the application included on-site presentations at the Clinton Global Initiative University meeting. I was equipped with my poster board, presentation and detailed proposal for Conflict Cookbook. Unfortunately, my delayed flight caused me to miss the entire two-hour presentations, thus hindering my ability from moving on to the finalist round.
Although I did not move on to the next round, I was still able to learn so much from this opportunity. I connected with people working on similar issues, like journalists, entrepreneurs and activists, along the way and learned about other opportunities to actualize my project. Conflict Cookbook was one of the handful projects chosen as a ‘selected commitment’ and I was even able to write about my experience in Elite Daily.
CGI U and the Resolution Project inspired me to envision social change and act on that vision. I was able to do so by combining my experiences inside and outside the classrooms while also exploring disciplines new to me, such as business and documentary studies. While the CGI U-Resolution Project experience was fleeting, it has allowed me to put my education in perspective, and as a graduating Blue Devil, I couldn’t be happier.