Jeff DeFlavio and Justin Zorn: Education and peace go hand-in-hand

Can a university leverage its academic resources for peace in a war-torn country? GW is about to test the waters. As the first university sponsor of Banaa.org, a student-run scholarship for young Sudanese peacemakers, it is leading the way for universities to invest in the prevention of conflict. In the fall of 2008, an extraordinary student will arrive on our campus – most likely from a refugee camp – to study for four years, build global connections, and hone skills critical for peace and sustainable development in Sudan.

To see the importance of this approach, consider the situation in Sudan, a country that has been at war for over 40 of its 52 years as an independent state. The cause of this continual fighting is not racism but regional disparities in education, infrastructure and access to resources. The capital city, Khartoum, enjoys economic growth upwards of 12 percent per year while the far western province, Darfur, suffers not only extreme stagnation but tens of thousands of civilian deaths due to violence each year.

Banaa’s vision is to empower dozens of talented but marginalized young Sudanese to address these disparities. By acquiring expert skills in conflict resolution, public health, environmental management and infrastructure development they will be able to return home and serve Sudan’s most vulnerable communities. These Banaa Scholars, who represent a diverse set of Sudanese regions and ethnicities, will be both broad and deep in their expertise: broad in their grasp of the dynamics of Sudanese politics, deep in their knowledge of one or two professional fields relevant to the promotion of peace and sustainable development in Sudan. They will complete peace studies curricula on their campuses and apprentice under leading policy analysts and development practitioners in D.C. over the summers.

Former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg made the commitment to fund one scholar at GW, and the president of Mills College in California made a similar pledge. Tufts University, Vassar College, the University of Florida and others are negotiating terms of a scholarship. But we have a long way to go. More than 140 talented Sudanese applied for just one Banaa Scholarship, offered this year at GW. This means dozens of charismatic, compassionate and qualified Sudanese are without support.

For this reason, we call on University President Steven Knapp to expand the program by working with top University benefactors to endow a Banaa scholarship. This would allow new peacemakers to attend GW each year, so that we may build a steady stream of indigenous experts to help heal the wounds that have plagued Sudan for so long.

By bringing these remarkable individuals to study with us, Knapp can also foster an unprecedented form of diversity on our campus. Students who have survived atrocity will bring a unique and unheard perspective to bear on the political and philosophical discussions upon which our University thrives.

We urge you to help expand this opportunity by sharing the concept with friends at other universities, exploring Banaa.org and joining the Facebook group. Working together, we can help marginalized peoples lay the foundation for peace in a nation that has known only war.

The writers are the managing director and policy director, respectively, of Banaa: The Sudan Educational Empowerment Network.

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