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Davis Winner Hatches Scholarship Plan

Desmond Rgwaringesu ’14

Desmond Rgwaringesu ’14
Photo by Randall Barton

To win the Davis Project for Peace, Desmond Rgwaringesu ’14 had to count his chickens before they hatched.

This summer he plans to return to his native Zimbabwe and raise chickens to support village kids going to school.

Now in its sixth year, Davis Projects for Peace awards $10,000 to undergraduates to implement grassroots projects that promote peace.

Having won the prize, Desmond will return to Gokomere, a myriad of villages scattered around a farm founded by Jesuit missionaries in the 19th century. The area is served by two primary schools and a Catholic high school where most of the students are boarders.

There is a serious achievement gap between those students whose families can afford to board them and the day-scholars that walk to school each day from home.

Based on the British education system, schools teach five disciplines, including English and math. Only 7% of the day-scholars pass their final exams compared with 66.8% of the boarders.

Inadequate nutrition and long walks to school affect day-scholars’ performance. Tired, hungry, and unable to concentrate, many lose the motivation to finish school and turn to criminal activities to sustain themselves.

Villagers struggle to find money to pay school fees, which run $50 per term for each primary student and $135 per term for high school students. Desmond hopes to provide financial assistance for 16 high school day-scholars and 40 primary students.

Desmond is well acquainted with this story. In high school he worked with a community charity association to identify the needy and research ways to help them. His mother raised chickens to raise school fees for him and his siblings. He helped her when he could, checking to see that the baby chicks were warm and remeshing and cleaning coops.

When called upon to define “peace” for his Davis application, he equated it with mental tranquility.

“Experience has taught me that you cannot have peace if you are anxious about the future, if you are stressed, fatigued, or suffer from depression because of lack of agency,” he wrote. “Your mind is incarcerated in an invisible prison that stifles your imagination.”

His plan is to build a self-sustaining chicken farm and use the profits to narrow the gap between day-scholars and boarders at the Gokomere schools. A contract to supply the three schools with chickens and eggs has already been guaranteed by the respective headmasters.

Profits will be used to help pay school fees for day-scholars in need of assistance, to be identified by the priests, nuns, and teachers at the mission. In addition, those who can’t afford to pack a lunch will be fed during school hours. Desmond plans to buy bicycles and loan them to 10 high school students who live far from campus.

In June, he will purchase 600 broiler chicks for meat production and 300 Hy-line Brown pullets for laying eggs. Desmond had to compute the cost of feed, antibiotics, labor, and supplies, and make allowances for the loss of chickens that die and hens that won’t lay eggs.

“It took me a long time to do all the calculations,” Desmond says. “That’s the good thing about a liberal arts education. As a biology major, I learned how to do research. This was almost like another research project. I took two economics classes that I applied as well and humanities taught me how to express my views. There was no part of my Reed education that I didn’t use in writing the application paper.”

He estimates that the project will benefit 56 students and he plans to leave the operation in the hands of the priests who run the mission schools.

Desmond was inspired to put forth this proposal by his experience with Reed’s Science Outreach Program. Before teaching science to elementary students in Portland schools, the Reedies took part in a diversity-training workshop that emphasized the effects of poverty on learning.

“When I began doing the outreach,” he says, “I realized that I can do something to help.”

We congratulate Desmond, and wish him well in his venture.

Tags: Davis Peace Project, awards, philanthropy