Two Peace Projects
By Gerry Boyle '78
Published May 24, 2007 | Issue: Spring 2007
Illustration by Robert P. Hernandez
Victoria Yuan '07 and Melyn Heckelman '08 want to help Chinese high school students talk openly and honestly about sex. Christine Avena '08 is intent on reintroducing eco-friendly alpacas and llamas to the rugged highlands of Ecuador.
Both projects will begin this summer thanks to grants from the 100 Projects for Peace program initiated by philanthropist Kathryn Wasserman Davis on the occasion of her 100th birthday. The two proposals were among 22 submitted by Colby students"and hundreds prepared by students at colleges and universities in the Davis United World Scholars Program. The 100 most promising projects were awarded $10,000 each, to be used in the summer of 2007. Each project must bring "new thinking to the prospects of peace in the world," Davis said.
Yuan and Heckelman see a clear link between better understanding of sexual issues and a more peaceful society. Citing the unrest in China after the government's confused handling of the SARS epidemic, they hope to encourage discussions to reduce HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases in the southern provinces. Sexual responsibility will prevent unwanted pregnancy and also will promote communication skills that can be applied to other topics, they argue.
Avena returned from a semester in Ecuador inspired by work being done in the mountainous highlands to replace cows and sheep with indigenous llamas and alpacas. She wrote her grant proposal the day she arrived home in Connecticut.
"I was literally getting home the day [applications] closed at midnight," Avena said.
She explained that cows and sheep require non-native grasses, and that cows carve paths on the steep hillsides, increasing erosion. Alpacas and llamas can live on native vegetation and navigate the mountainsides without scarring the hills. And the fine alpaca fiber is 10 times more valuable than sheep's wool.
Part of Avena's grant will go toward purchasing more animals and training farmers to raise and breed them.
In addition Avena hopes to to step into an ongoing grazing-rights dispute between farmers and officials of the expanding national park system in Ecuador. "I'm hoping to be the extender of the olive branch," Avena said, "to be the mediator between the two."