American Univesity of Beirut

USAID USP scholars at AUB celebrate transformative education through civic engagement

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Safa Jafari Safa, Office of Communications,​

A ceremony was organized to celebrate community service projects conducted by AUB scholars of the University Scholarship Program (USP) funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Seventeen projects that conclude by the end of this academic year were showcased through presentations and posters at AUB’s West Hall. 

The ceremony took place in the presence of USAID Counselor Thomas Staal, Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Middle East bureau Jeanne Pryor, and USAID Mission Director Anne Patterson who, accompanied by AUB administration members, examined the project posters and had conversations with the students about their work.

“The future is built by civic-minded people like the ones we just heard who collaborate at a shared future in service to the public interest and this is the core of the purpose of USP, to not only prepare students for academic achievement but also to develop life skills so that students can take the future in their own hands and contribute to Lebanon and their communities,” said Staal who spoke about the “transformative experience” he had at AUB as a junior student that set him on a path that laid the foundation for his 30 years of working with USAID. “The USP is a model for a way of life that brings out the best in individuals so they can reach out to others to advocate for worthy causes and for their communities.” 

As part of their scholarship program with USAID, USP scholars merge their comprehensive education experience at AUB with the chance to design and implement development and community service projects for under-served communities within Lebanon, typically their own villages. These include volunteering programs, non-professional internships, and community service projects, implemented in coordination with the Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service (CCECS) at AUB.

“USP transforms the lives of young people who are among the most deserving of this special gift,” said President Fadlo Khuri to the scholars. “It equips you with education. It can teach you leadership, so that Lebanon and the Arab region can have better leaders for tomorrow. The transformative leadership program you undergo with CCECS is one of the most effective and impactful programs of its kind in the world. It makes beneficiaries of an education funded by the USAID in order to build leaders and it is planned to make you among the best prepared and most empowered graduates anywhere in the world. You will be prepared to face the challenges of the societies you grow up with and to help overcome those challenges.” 

Sustainable solutions to present challenges

Representatives of five student teams presented their projects at the ceremony by explaining the developmental challenges they tackled in their hometowns, and the sustainable solutions they designed and implemented. The first project worked to promote environmental sustainability in Jib Janine, West Beqaa, through harvesting rain water, composting, and establishing a vertical irrigation system. Second, the economic empowerment project of underprivileged women in Batloun, Chouf was presented. Through building capacities and working with the community and specialists on best practices, the USP team was able to generate income and utilize apple production in manufacturing healthy snacks. 
The road safety awareness project for youth was the third project. It offers awareness and problem-solving sessions to communities within the Matn and Keserwan districts to tackle the issue of rising accident rates. The waste management project in Aidamoun, North Lebanon, was a citizen-based intervention that installed a solid waste sorting system through a partnership between locals, municipalities, and recycling companies. Lastly, the Ehmej cultural trail project was presented, where a cultural trail has been established to promote tourism and enhance the local economy in Ehmej, Mount Lebanon.

In addition to faculty and staff advisors provided by CCECS, the student teams worked with local residents, municipalities, and experts in related fields.

“We work with the students on themes that are relevant to their communities and that highlight societal challenges,” said Rabih Shibli, director of CCECS. “We then identify the root cause of the issues faced and work together on designing strategic interventions to tackle them … We report success stories weekly … The added value of these scholarships is that in addition to focusing on academic excellence, our scholars become agents of change in underprivileged communities. We graduate leaders in development.”

After a concluding music and vocal performance by students Mustafa El ​Fakhani and Elie Chedid with original lyrics about the possibilities that USAID funding unleashes for students, the audience was invited to the Malhas Common Room for a display of posters showcasing USP scholars’ community service projects and an opportunity for discussion of the work with the students.

Presenting his team’s work which integrated people with special needs through mini paralympic games in southern village communities, Sajed Medlej told us how the project broadened his perception of what he can offer as well as what makes a community. “You can give from what you know,” he said. “I now think about how I can contribute to my whole district, giving from my experience and potential to benefit the community.” 

Since its inception in 2011, the USAID USP has fully supported nearly 350 students at AUB, 117 of whom have already graduated, whereas 222 are currently enrolled at AUB. Under a third cycle of USP 7, 80 new scholars are expected to join AUB by September 2018. “The academic performance of our USP students has been second to none and it is only matched by their achievements in their community service work,” said Dr. Malek Tabbal, director of USAID USP at AUB.  

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