Maria Burnett-Gaudiani '98 and Taleeb Noormohamed '98 received this year's Henry Richardson Labouisse '26 Prize Fellowship. The prize will enable both winners to fulfill their goals of improving the quality of life in less developed countries.
The Labouisse Fellowship is awarded annually to "a graduating senior or seniors who have a project that they want to accomplish in the developing world," said acting Associate Dean of the Wilson School Jeffrey Herbst, a member of the committee that awarded the fellowship.
Burnett-Gaudiani said she plans to return to South Africa, where she spent time last year researching the housing crisis near Cape Town. While there, she said she met an architect who knew landowners who wanted to develop land. With the money from the fellowship, she will continue this project, creating housing for approximately 175 families currently living in the Crossroads squatter camp.
"We have land right outside of urban Cape Town," said Burnett-Gaudiani, adding that the project will not solely provide living space, but buildings where "people would live on the top floor, with a store on the ground floor."
She said the area would be a marketplace during the day, where the squatters would sell goods to attract a greater population into the area.
Noormohamed will use his share of the fellowship money to work with young people in Gorno-Badakshan, a strife-ridden region of Tajikistan. The former Soviet republic in central Asia was hit hard by civil war after the breakup of the U.S.S.R.
Noormohamed said he plans to set up a program of reconciliation to ease tensions between different Tajik ethnic groups by focusing on their similar histories and literature.
"Because of the ethnic diversity, there's a lot of intergroup strife. The situation is similar to Bosnia," Noormohamed said.
Noormohamed said he has experience in facilitating such forms of open discussion, as he conducted "local peace talks" in the Middle East during the summer of 1996 when he visited Syria, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon and the Palestinian-occupied territories.
Noormohamed said he plans to leave in the second week of June, while Burnett-Gaudiani will not depart until October, and may not start her project until January or February. However, she said she is not sure of the duration of her stay and could remain in South Africa for "maybe a year, maybe two, maybe three."
Both Burnett-Gaudiani's and Noormohamed's projects are designed to have a continued impact even after their departure. For Burnett-Gaudiani, it will be the creation of a new community with a viable economy. Noormohamed said that "the real value is that local groups will take over (the program) and run it themselves."
According to Herbst, an ad hoc committee to determine the recipients of the Labouisse Fellowship chooses the applicants it will interview. The fellowship is awarded soon after the interviews, he added.
The fellowship was established in honor of Henry Richardson Labouisse by his daughter and son-in-law, Anne and Martin Peretz, and his grandchildren.