Rabeya Jawaid ’16 launched her presentation without saying a word, yet no one in the crowded Axinn classroom could look away. Jawaid was speaking Pakistani sign language, making a visual point about the work she did with impoverished deaf women in Karachi over the summer. After a minute, she began to speak.
“As a Pakistani woman, I can tell you it’s not easy being a woman in Pakistan,” she said. “It’s definitely not easy being a poor woman in Pakistan. So I just want you to imagine what it’s like being a deaf poor woman in Pakistan.”
Jawaid said an internship at a deaf research center in Karchi a few years ago sparked her interest in sign language and deaf culture. She wanted to do something to promote financial independence among the women she met there, who had little prospect for employment.
Sitting in her Middlebury dorm room, Jawaid hatched an idea to train deaf women in sewing, screen-printing and embroidery, giving them entrée into Pakistan’s flourishing clothing industry. This past summer Jawaid successfully launched her skill development plan, hiring skilled trainers – conversant in sign language, of course – and recruiting trainees. Most importantly, she took meticulous notes so that future trainers could reproduce the process.
Her project was one of four funded in part by summer grants from Middlebury’s Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Students from each group shared their summer experiences with the campus community at the Axinn Center on Friday. The projects, which also took place in Chicago, Swaziland, and Burundi, were a chance to test out solutions to a range of social problems.
“We saw a lot of collaboration with community partners, which was really important,” said Heather Neuwirth, associate director of the Center for Social Entrepreneurship. “Most of these projects had a component of going home to a community that was really understood. It was a way of saying, ‘I want to work with my community.’”
Gabriela Fuentes ’16 returned to her native Chicago to offer a week-long workshop of dance, writing, and discussion aimed at curbing issues of violence and high school dropout rates among young teen girls. She partnered with Middlebury dance professor Christal Brown to develop the program, which took place at a women’s center in Chicago that serves victims of domestic and sexual abuse.
A pair of students, Betty Kobia ’16 and Armel Nibasumba ’16, developed a week-long peace-building camp, called Twese for Peace, in post-war Burundi for high school and university students. They hope to expand the program in coming years to Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Watching Hutus and Tutsis openly discuss their frustrations and hopes for the future was a big win, said Nibasumba. “We were actually able to create that safe space where people made friendships and were free enough to break the taboo of discussing ethnicity.”
The final group, Platforms for Hope, told about their effort to design and build lap desks for schools in rural Swaziland. The four students — Mzwakithi Shongwe ’16, Jia Ying Teoh ’16, Adrian Leong ’16, and Roksana Gabidulina ’16 —used their grant funding to travel to Swaziland, and to manufacture and distribute the desks. They were pleased to find their desks were in high demand, which presented the new challenge of ramping up production and figuring out how to monetize desks throughout schools with varying abilities to pay. They’re also developing a version of the desk with solar lighting to be used in areas lacking electricity.
This was the second round of summer grants for the Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Professor Jon Isham, director of the center, was impressed with the students’ work.
“I think what we saw above all was amazing leadership,” said Isham. “The projects had just the right level of ambition.”
For more information about the Middlebury Center for Social Entrepreneurship, visit: http://mcse.middlebury.edu/