By Anna Allen, ’16
What would you do with $10,000? For Luka Klimaviciute, recipient of a Projects for Peace grant from the Davis United World College Scholars Program, this question was more than hypothetical — it was a real chance to make a difference in the lives of refugees in her home country of Lithuania.
Klimaviciute already had a connection to the United World College system, as she received a scholarship from the organization to fund her studies at a high school in the United States and her undergraduate education at Richmond. “It’s actually the same family that is funding my education at Richmond that’s giving me the project funding,” says Klimaviciute. “They have made huge contributions to international education.”
“I knew early on that I wanted to apply for the funding,” she says. “The challenge was deciding what I wanted to do should I get the funding.”
Klimaviciute’s project started to take shape in a Sophomore Scholars in Residence course, Living on the Frontera, which examined the history and politics of border issues. But her idea truly formed while studying abroad. She chose a program that took her to Chile, Jordan, and Nepal to study human rights or — in many places — the lack thereof.
Memories of a refugee camp in Jordan still stick with Klimaviciute today. “Visiting the refugee camps was tough,” says Klimaviciute. “You can only imagine the living situations there.”
Klimaviciute struggled with her role as an American student visiting the camps. She talked to people and learned about their difficult experiences, but had little recourse in the short time the class was there. “There were multiple women who would start crying, asking me to help bring their husbands back, and there wasn’t anything I could do to help,” she says.
When one of Klimaviciute’s friends established a small school at a refugee camp in Jordan, though, she realized there was more she could do. “That’s when everything clicked,” she says. “I decided I wanted to apply for the Projects for Peace grant to help give back to this community of people struggling to live their lives in a country and culture different from where they grew up.”
She decided that her own project would address the severity of the refugee crisis in Europe. “People were fleeing their homes in large numbers and the economist in me kept thinking, ‘This is not going to end well,’” says Klimaviciute. “I am pro-immigration, but when refugees and immigrants come into a country in large amounts, it becomes really difficult to integrate them and for them to coexist with the local population.”
Klimaviciute’s vision of “peace” in her project proposal focuses on trying to integrate the refugees and immigrants coming to Lithuania, where she grew up. Her primary focus is language acquisition, so she’s beginning by purchasing materials to be distributed at refugee integration centers. “I’m spending a good amount of money on supplies for Lithuanian books and exercise books, CDs, but I’m also buying some in their native languages,” she says. “My research has shown that when immigrants’ cultural identity is cultivated, approved, and respected, they’re more likely to integrate, because they feel welcomed in their new society.”
She’s also planning a potluck to be held on June 20, World Refugee Day. “I’m trying to encourage personal contact between the refugees and the people who live in my city,” she says. “I want to get everyone together — my friends, my family — and lead exercises that highlight our similarities as opposed to our differences.”
“My goal is to welcome people. It’s a really basic idea — nothing too grand — but I think it’s what we need.”