Peace Conference

A project to empower students' voice in social issues, by students.

Photo of angela zhong
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Additional categories (optional)

  • Education
  • Environment

Are you employed by T-Mobile or related to an employee of T-Mobile?

  • No

Eligibility: Date of Birth

10/06/2002

Help us stay in touch!

346-254-0831 TX: Cypress (77429)

Date You Started Your Project Started

10/01/2018

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Students, especially low-income minorities, are disproportionately left out of discussions in the status quo due to ageist restrictions and lack of quantifiable experience, but if they are to be the leaders of tomorrow, they ought to learn how to implement solutions to the social issues that affect them the most in the qualitatively best manner possible.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

In the February Peace Conference, two hundred students were selected from the hundreds that applied to represent different branches of the greater Houston area, from inner-city schools to more rural outposts. During the application process, students were asked which problems afflicted them the most, and the curriculum was then designed around the students’ contributions: environmental degradation, gun violence, homelessness, human trafficking, and intolerance. Over two days, we addressed why these specific issues were targeted towards youth and advocated for various solutions in small groups. At the culmination, groups came together to establish and present regional Peace Projects that would address the problems they felt most strongly about, with the guidance of adult Rotarians, who pledged to assist with the problems. In my group, for example, we advocated to establish a Cypress Youth Council to lobby our regions to better respond to our specific needs in education, safety, and other relevant factors.

3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

On my way to school, I pass by a handful of shady clubs, decrepit motels, and dilapidated massage parlors. Human trafficking may seem like a third-world problem, but with the highest rates of across the country, modern-day slavery flourishes in the seedy underbelly of Houston. The structural issues are especially pervasive in minority communities: undocumented families are unable to report when their children are abducted, already ‘at-risk’ youth are deemed irresponsible and not worth tracking. Thus, I centered the Peace Conference to empower leaders to empathize with the lived experiences of victims to empower them to change the cultural structures of their living spaces and address objections of our policies with an insider’s view. But as we began planning, I realized the plethora of problems that affected youth, some of which were only recognized once others spoke out about them.

4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

Some students chose to focus on human trafficking during the conference. We tackled the intersectional violence: hypersexualizing black youth bodies, stigma surrounding LGBTQI+ identifying persons, and more. We also promoted acceptance of victims’ survival strategies, including ways to contribute to battered shelters. State judges introduced the legal perspective to make the change institutional as well. Afterwards, I saw a cultural change in our communities: hanging in every school restroom, plastered on bulletin boards, was information on how to report the crime without endangering the trafficked victim. A school representative even called ensuring students would be accredited for missed school time when attending this conference to encourage more people to attend the following year. “The following year?” I asked. It was then that I realized my work has only begun.

6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

The biggest distinguishing factor about the project in my opinion is the focus on students’ input on which social issues to address. This was an incredibly important feature for me to include in its design since it empowers the students to branch off and establish their projects, while providing a support network writ large to the budding leaders. Many other programs are already focused on one area e.g. mental health or increasing access for non-gender conforming people, but our scope encompasses that without foreclosing possibility for individuality in the specific projects.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

At the end of our program, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support. Many other youth volunteering programs from all over contacted me for more resources to distribute to their members. The two hundred who originally listened to what we had to say, in turn spoke out with us, creating a human chorus with thousands of voices. More projects became focused on problems that affect the youth. Not wanting this focus to go to waste, I harnessed the power of my community to establish drives for much needed items. Through my efforts, I spoke at the International Peace Gala for adult “Rotarians,” and US Institute of Peace Conference and used the platform to spread our message. This was perfectly fitting since the theme of the night was tolerance and inclusion: despite our age, our initiative was seriously considered.

8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

Next year, we are instituting a semester long version of the weekend peace conference that targets a certain region of the Greater Houston Area and assigns mentors to the attendees to help them brainstorm and implement the “Peace Plans” that they came up with. This gives them guidance to succeed, as well as a figure in their life that often “at-risk” children have to turn to, something that many don’t have in their everyday lives without this program. We have partnered up with NewGen Peacebuilders for mentors and Rotary District 5890 for some seed funding and plan to expand this across the country if possible. Also, after being named one of twelve Young Hero Award recipients by the T. D. Bank, the project has significantly more coverage.

9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?

  • Project Plan & Strategy

10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Family support
  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations between $100-$1k

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 [optional] Which of the following categories do you identify with?

  • Asian (for example: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani) (9)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 [optional] Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Religious minority (non-Christian)

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Search engine

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Photo of Shafat Khan
Team

The power of dialogue and conversations are often underrated when it comes to social change - kudos to you for creating such productive environments for rich debate on pressing issues. Good luck!