2023 Davis Grant Recipient - Astrid
Astrid Garcia, MPP’23, is an international student from Venezuela studying at the Harris School of Public Policy. She will use the grant for the project Community Ambassadors to build leadership capacity in adolescents from low-income communities in Venezuela, based on Model United Nations methodology. Funds from this grant will empower young leaders to become responsible citizens with the skills to develop peaceful solutions towards local and worldwide conflicts.
Led by experienced negotiators and communication experts, the last lecture was an immersive experience designed to introduce students to the art and science of negotiation. Attendees gained valuable insights into the principles of effective negotiation, including the importance of active listening, empathy, collaboration, and the art of finding common ground.
Putting theory into practice, our community ambassadors embarked on a Model of UN that tested their negotiation skills. Divided into groups, they tackled three crucial global challenges: climate change, the Venezuelan migration crisis, and the green energy transformation for 2030. Each group represented a different stakeholder, immersing the students in the complexity of international diplomacy.
In the climate change scenario, students assumed the roles of representatives from various countries with differing priorities. As they navigated the delicate balance between economic interests and environmental sustainability, they experienced firsthand the challenges faced by real-world diplomats. Their passionate and well-reasoned arguments highlighted the urgent need for global cooperation in tackling this existential threat.
The Venezuelan migration simulation showcased the power of empathy and cooperation. Students stepped into the shoes of different stakeholders – host countries, humanitarian organizations, and the Venezuelan government – crafting strategies to address the crisis while ensuring the well-being of displaced individuals. The exercise underscored the importance of understanding multiple perspectives for comprehensive solutions.
Green Energy Transformation for 2030
The green energy transformation scenario transported students into the near future, where they had to envision a world driven by renewable energy by 2030. Advocating for innovative policies and technologies, the students showcased their commitment to sustainable development and their capacity to think beyond traditional boundaries.
In the heart of Venezuela, where economic challenges often overshadow the dreams of its youth, our community ambassadors defied all odds and emerged victorious. Despite competing in a debate against students from prestigious private schools, they not only participated but also secured the esteemed award of “Outstanding Delegation.” This remarkable achievement showcases the power of determination, knowledge, and unity, proving that one’s socioeconomic background should never define their potential.
The journey began with students from diverse backgrounds, each bringing their unique perspectives and stories to the table. Their collective enthusiasm led them to participate in a Model United Nations (MUN) event, an arena where their ideas could transcend boundaries and make a lasting impact. Little did they know that their commitment to addressing global issues would lead them to shine.
Anticipating that the debates might extend into the late hours, we had planned to spend the night at the school where the passionate discussions took place. This arrangement served a dual purpose: it safeguarded their well-being and offered an optimal environment for continued research, in-depth idea exchanges, and preparations for the forthcoming day’s session.
The MUN conference delved into pressing global matters, and one of the topics at the forefront was the refugee situation stemming from the war in Ukraine. Representing various countries, the students debated and formulated solutions to alleviate the suffering of displaced individuals. Their empathy and innovative proposals showcased the depth of their understanding and their dedication to making a difference.
Another topic that resonated deeply was the impact of conflict on sports and physical activities. Despite their own challenges back home, they recognized the importance of sports in healing and rebuilding communities torn by strife. Through well-researched arguments and passionate speeches, they advocated for solutions to ensure that sports continue to thrive even in conflict-ridden regions.
In a world often divided by differences, these young delegates have shown that incredible transformations can occur when minds come together, irrespective of background. Their victory reverberates far beyond the walls of the MUN conference, reminding us all that change starts with the determination to rise above and the courage to voice our beliefs.
In the embrace of history and the spirit of camaraderie, we crafted two extraordinary experiences: a special lecture and a sports day, both designed to instill values that would shape the course of our young ambassadors’ lives.
The Special Lecture: A Glimpse into History
One of the most important events we had was to bring Nora Fischbach, an expert in political science, whose family had survived the Holocaust, to give a special lecture. As Nora shared her family’s poignant stories, the room fell silent, captivated by the weight of history and the importance of passing down these narratives to future generations.
Many of the children, who had little prior understanding of the Holocaust and World War II, were guided on an emotional trip that aroused their interest and empathy. They gained knowledge about the terrible effects of war, the negative effects of discrimination and antisemitism, and the value of peace and respect. The young ambassadors were profoundly affected by Nora’s words, which helped them to grasp the dangers of prejudice and the importance of valuing diversity.
The young minds exited the lecture classroom with new perspectives. You could see the flicker of hope and the ember of knowledge that would enable them to sculpt a world that is united in its opposition to bigotry and discrimination in their eyes. Nora’s talk did more than just provide the students with a look at the past; it also lit a fire in each young person’s heart, revealing a route to a happier and more compassionate future.
A Sports Day for Building Character
In an effort to foster teamwork, discipline, and leadership, we planned a dynamic sports day with thrilling sports like rugby and soccer. As the children eagerly participated, forging friendships that cut beyond social boundaries, the field resounded with laughter and cheers.
Sports have shown to be a successful medium for imparting valuable life lessons and moral principles. The students gained an appreciation for fair play, respect for rivals, and the power of teamwork via the spirit of healthy competition. While winning was satisfying, we emphasized that the ultimate victory resided in the friendship developed among teammates and “rivals” alike.
The sports day also became a platform to nurture individual talents and foster self-confidence. The children embraced challenges with enthusiasm, discovering their potential beyond the classroom walls. The energy on the field was infectious, and it left an enduring impact on the participants, encouraging them to embrace a more active and vibrant lifestyle.
I’m in Venezuela, and I’m happy to witness the tangible results of our training program in person. It has been six weeks since our students started their classes, and I have already witnessed the immense potential they possess and the new skills they have acquired.
Recently, we organized our first formal debate, which was hosted by Community Ambassadors. We invited 150 students from 25 different schools, and I couldn’t be prouder of our team.
Over three days, our ambassadors engaged in debates with students from three different states in Venezuela. The discussions revolved around various topics, including LGBTQ Human Rights, education reform in Venezuela, and migration.
Our students conducted thorough research and proposed thoughtful solutions. They emphasized the importance of reinstating Venezuela’s participation in the PISA assessment, providing training and better salaries for teachers, recognizing egalitarian marriage, fostering economic opportunities, and creating jobs in host countries to facilitate the integration of Venezuelan migrants into local labor markets.
Additionally, we organized an NGO fair, where esteemed organizations such as International Amnesty, the Gandhi Foundation, and Fe y Alegria had the opportunity to showcase their work and the impact they are making in different communities across Venezuela. This event also facilitated meaningful connections between these organizations and our students, paving the way for potential internships and scholarships in the future.
I firmly believe that Model United Nations debates serve as safe spaces for creating, exchanging ideas, and learning from mistakes. In our complex and challenging world, we need courageous individuals like our community ambassadors who are willing to take risks, learn from their errors, and persist in the face of adversity.
Hola from Colombia,
There is some exciting news since the last post: I have successfully completed my Master of Public Policy degree at the University of Chicago. Currently, I’m in Bogota, Colombia, getting ready for my upcoming flight to Venezuela in the coming days.
Over the past weeks, we have been working hard in a series of rigorous training sessions conducted simultaneously across our four schools in Caracas. Thus far, our community ambassadors have learned about the United Nations System, public speaking, and global issues such as human rights, social justice, peace, and security. Additionally, we have thoughtfully arranged debate simulations, enabling them to apply their newly acquired skills while fostering continued growth and development.
Our next activity will be a formal debate where schools from various districts within the city have been invited to participate. Our ambassadors will have the opportunity to compete in a real context! Imagine the scene: young diplomats, resplendent in their finest attire, their hearts pounding with nerves, standing tall to face their fears head-on. Representing a country in the General Assembly of the United Nations is challenging but they are ready to embark on this new adventure full of invaluable lessons.
Moreover, I’m excited to return to Venezuela, my cherished homeland, after an absence spanning three and a half years. I’m eager to reunite with familiar faces and meet in person the new generation of community ambassadors. The enthusiasm and dedication of the young ambassadors inspire me, and I strongly believe that our combined efforts will make Venezuela and the world a better place. My heart is filled with gratitude and I’m excited to start new adventures, work together, and make a lasting difference.
Hi, fellow changemakers!
I'm happy to share some exciting updates on our Community Ambassadors program. Thanks to the support of International House, we have been able to achieve great milestones in our mission to empower young leaders in Venezuela's low-income neighborhoods.
We have had the opportunity to work directly with four school directors in Caracas, and we are happy to inform you that they have given their approval to our proposal! We will be working with Fe y Alegría María Inmaculada, Mano Amiga Institute, Corazón de María and Don Bosco Technical School. This is an important turning point for us since it allows us to continue choosing and preparing our initial group of Community Ambassadors.
The response to the information sessions we recently held with the students at each school was overwhelmingly positive. Seeing so many young people motivated to improve their communities is encouraging. To learn more about possible applicants and their goals, we have started interviewing them. These students' passion and dedication are simply incredible, and we can't wait to see what they will accomplish.
The next step is to finalize the official cohort of participants in each school. To make sure that everyone is on the same page, we will collaborate closely with the school administration and our team of trainers. We are certain that the young people we work with will benefit from our program, and we can't wait to watch how they motivate others to take on leadership roles in their communities.
Stay tuned for updates on our progress!
I am thrilled to share the news that I have been awarded a Davis Projects for Peace grant to expand the impact of the Community Ambassadors program. Fifteen years ago, I joined this program as a young student looking for a way to make a difference in my community. Little did I know that joining the Community Ambassadors program would change the course of my life forever. The program taught me vital skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, and research that I still use to this day. Most importantly, it gave me hope and showed me that change was possible even in the midst of difficult circumstances.
Community Ambassadors is a youth empowerment program that seeks to promote peace through violence prevention in low-income communities in Venezuela. They work with students from 12 to 18 years old who are at risk of school dropout and provide them with complementary education focused on honing skills in diplomacy, negotiation, critical thinking, public speaking, writing, and research. Then, they participate in Model United Nations debates with private and high-income schools where they play the role of ambassadors from different countries and attempt to solve real-world issues such as gender equality, human rights, climate action, social development, and more.
Thanks to a scholarship, I graduated from one of the best universities in Venezuela. I then moved to Washington DC, where I worked at the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and was a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum. Then, I had the opportunity to continue my studies at the University of Chicago in the Harris School of Public Policy.
Now, fifteen years later, I am honored and grateful to have received a grant from Davis Projects for Peace. Through this grant, I plan to work with an additional 100 students from four schools in Caracas, Venezuela, providing them with the same life-changing opportunities that I had.
With the support of Davis Projects for Peace, I will implement a three-month training program (from May to July), focused on the Model United Nations methodology, soft skills, and socio-emotional skills. We will also create a small computer lab to reduce equity gaps and give these students the tools they need to succeed. By providing additional training and resources to more students in Venezuela, we can continue to promote peace and empower the next generation of leaders. I cannot wait to see what these students will accomplish with the skills and hope that Community Ambassadors provides.