First Wheaton freshman wins Projects for Peace grant

Rebecca “Becca” Rosenzweig ’19 keeps close to her heart friends on the other side of the world—refugees who escaped Myanmar only to struggle to overcome poverty in Thailand.

Now, thanks to a $10,000 grant from Projects for Peace, she spent the summer coordinating the building and operation of a student-run shop so young refugees can develop business skills to improve their long-term career prospects, and futures.

Rosenzweig, who in spring 2016 became the first freshman at Wheaton to win the Projects for Peace grant, has visited Thailand multiple times over the years, as a family friend lives there. In high school, she volunteered there for a summer, teaching English and befriending refugees known as the Karen people—villagers persecuted by the Myanmar government who fled to Thailand.

“I became really close with some of the refugees, and then I heard stories about how many of the people are stuck in a cycle of poverty,” she said.

Many of these refugees do not speak Thai, nor have the vocational skills to find jobs. In search of work, occasionally they leave their villages and move to cities. Often, they end up in modern-day slavery and trafficking situations, Rosenzweig said.

“The Karen refugees are kind, down-to-earth and intelligent people. It is the most welcoming community I’ve ever met,” said Rosenzweig, who also is interested in contemplative studies.

It was during her First-Year Seminar class at Wheaton when she learned of the Project for Peace grant. In the course “Social Empowerment Through the Performing Arts,” students were required, as an exercise, to develop an idea for a Projects for Peace-like proposal.

The Projects for Peace grant itself calls on youth to design grassroots projects that promote peace building. The grant is possible thanks to funding from the late Kathyrn Wasserman Davis, who chose to celebrate her 100th birthday by committing $1 million for Projects for Peace. She was the mother of alumna Diana Davis Spencer ’60 and received an honorary degree from Wheaton in 2008.