As a third-year student, I sincerely believe that Grinnell College is a place where the spirit of the liberal arts goes deep. During school days, as well as the summer breaks, Grinnell provides fascinating opportunities for adventures and explorations. From serious academic interactions to career exploration, we never run out of fun and meaningful stuff to do.
The past summer, I was nominated by Grinnell to receive $10,000 from the Davis Foundation to organize a peace project in Shanghai, China, with a student from Georgetown University. Called “100 Projects for Peace,” this annual program is funded by Kathryn W. Davis. Upon her 100th birthday, she decided to support 100 student-led grassroots projects around the globe on issues of conflict resolution, woman’s rights, social justice, poverty reduction, and so on. Among the 90 campuses that nominated one or two candidates, Grinnell nominated two students (one of whom was me) who each received $10,000 for a summer 2009 project.
I first came to know about 100 Projects for Peace when past winners presented on their experience during my second year. The room was packed with students, faculty, and staff members. Many people were forced to stand through the two-hour presentation, which they did without complaint, amazed by the ideas and experiences of the speakers. One student had set up an Arabic language and culture program in Israel. Another group of students managed a local food program in Iowa. I realized that I had the same opportunity to craft and organize a grassroots project that would make small but real changes for the society.
The peace project I designed closely related to my academic interests as a sociology major. With advice from professors and staff in Grinnell, my partner and I designed a project that invites law school students to help migrant workers in Shanghai, the biggest metropolitan area in mainland China. Because of China’s unique residency system, migrant workers from the countryside often face discrimination and exploitation in urban areas. Project LAMPS — Legal Aid Program for Migrant-workers in Shanghai — thus aimed to help the inner migrant workers protect their basic human rights from legal abuses.
Although we started planning before receiving the money, we still faced unexpected difficulties due to local policy and our limited knowledge. Despite the district government’s full support, we often found ourselves lost in a muddle of logistics and bureaucracy. For instance, the law schools, where we recruited 90 percent of our volunteers, banned our posters from their campus buildings in fear of political controversy; we had to secretly spread pamphlets in dormitories and classrooms.
Nevertheless, many civil servants, lawyers, law professors, and media personnel genuinely supported our project. Certainly, one summer is far from enough to change the lives of millions of rural migrants. But with our project’s help, about 35 law school students and lawyers provided free presentations and legal consultation to more than 1,000 migrant workers from all parts of China.
Through 100 Project for Peace, I learned my shortcomings and limited capacity as a student. And I also learned that there were always people out there who believe in social justice and are willing to help — it is just a matter of finding them. My summer adventure was just one example out of many priceless opportunities that Grinnell is able to provide. As long as we seek, there is always something Grinnell can offer in our interests.
Liting Cong '11 is a Sociology major and Policy Studies concentrator from Shanghai, China.