CGI U@Duke Stories: Leena El-Sadek, T’15

Conflict Cookbook

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Social empowerment, a concept I am learning about in my Bass Connections and cognitive neuroscience classes, is at the heart of Conflict Cookbook. Mary Venus Joseph and Francina P.X., professors of social development, address components of empowerment in a paper titled “Women Empowerment: The Psychological Dimension.” Empowerment, which they argue is the main paradigm of development, is seen as the process of enabling or authorizing an individual to think, behave, take action and control work in an autonomous way and to take control of one’s own destiny (163). Empowerment is not limited to the decisions an individual can make. Rather, it also extends control and access to resources, including physical, human, intellectual, and financial.

Conflict Cookbook uses this model of social empowerment to mobilize refugee and immigrant women to not only shape their lives, but also have the agency to shape the community and society in which they are living in. Conflict Cookbook uses the medium of education to actualize this goal. To enable this empowerment, Conflict Cookbook will provide women with lessons on language, writing and editing, microfinance, and project managing. For language, the women will partner with the organization I started called SuWA: Supporting Women’s Action, which is through the Kenan Institute for Ethics. At Kenan, I have developed both a close academic and personal relationship with faculty advisors and mentors. Professor Suzanne Shanahan, my DukeImmerse and Bass Connections professor, has consistently pushed and motivated me to act on my visions. Professor Shanahan is undoubtedly the force that propelled me to establish SuWA.

SuWA offers both weekly language classes and cultural events for refugees in Durham. Partnering with SuWA will help protect the actualization, success, and sustainability of Conflict Cookbook because SuWA is comprised over 25 dedicated students. From different backgrounds and schools, these students consistently remind me what collaboration can produce. It is through a SuWA class that I first thought about Conflict Cookbook.

In parallel to the actual story-cookbook, Conflict Cookbook will also educate the communities in which refugee and immigrant women live. Islamophobia has contributed to the marginalization of Muslims and there is a double stigma of being a refugee. These identities inhibit an individual in America from “thinking, behaving, taking action, and controlling one’s destiny in an autonomous way.” To tear down the boundaries that marginalize refugee and immigrant women, Conflict Cookbook will offer stories and recipes that facilitate and introduce relationships while eliminating stereotypes between the Western world and Muslim women through a unanimously appreciated vehicle of commonality and happiness—food.

My experience with Duke Immerse, Bass Connections and the Duke Global Health Institute have inspired this project. Currently, I am writing a thesis on the effects of displacement on refugees, which was informed by my experience with refugees in Egypt through Duke Immerse and in Durham through Bass Connections and SuWA. My long-term plans are to return to school to become a psychologist. A grant through the Office of Civic Engagement will help me act on my vision and combining my academic and personal trajectories. It will give me the support and feedback needed to go beyond Duke’s campus and implement effect change in the Durham community. It will allow me to use my education and experiences to give voice to the voiceless and give individuals, students and refugees, the pen to write their own narrative.