Here are two recent graduates spreading their wings and embracing challenges around the world.

Ladd Serwat (’17)
International Relations

Not Giving Up On Burundi

When Helping Hurts
Interested in helping global communities
impacted by poverty and conflict?
Serwat’s advice:
• Research the history and culture of
the place you’re visiting before you go.
• Learn the language if possible.
• Understand the ways well-meaning
efforts sometimes diminish the work –
“When Helping Hurts” is a great book.
• Remember not to put too much
emphasis on yourself.

Now living in London, Ladd Serwat’s graduate studies are part of a journey centered on researching poverty and African development.

At 18, fresh out of high school, Serwat landed an internship with a nonprofit organization called the Hope Project, which helped provide housing and education to communities in African countries. After returning to the U.S., he met his wife, Carley, and the couple moved to Burundi to learn the language and culture.

“We fell in love with the country and its people,” Serwat says. People who had suffered acts of violence, often due to land disputes even within families; people who were forced to leave the country or were internally displaced.

Serwat’s experience and his friendships revealed some serious realities: Crafting effective, durable and humane responses to forced migration, land security and ethnic conflict would be incredibly complex, and if he were going to play a role in that work, he needed a concentrated time of academic research and preparation. In 2014, that epiphany brought him home to North Idaho, and to Gonzaga.

In political science and international relations courses, Serwat explored answers from an academic perspective: the structural challenges to poverty, the criticism of relief aid efforts, the empowerment of local leaders to create solutions, working with the U.N. on state-centric issues, finding nongovernment organizations that could be effective despite their limited resources and political voice.

Gonzaga doesn’t have extensive coursework dedicated to his passion for East Africa and its Great Lakes Region, but Serwat found flexibility with faculty members who supported him contextualizing the material and focusing research projects on Burundi and the Great Lakes Region in general. He arranged independent study courses in the sociology of development and global perspectives to focus on theoretical perspectives concerning development. He credits professors Stacy Taninchev and Sean Swan for giving him the freedom to do that research and prepare for grad school.

“It’s been an eight-year commitment to seeing change happen in Burundi, both in practice and through academic research,” Serwat wrote in a graduate school admissions letter. “I am not giving up, losing focus, or willing to stop fighting on behalf of the poor, oppressed and vulnerable in this frequently forgotten country.”

How does Serwat deal with the despair of people who are displaced – the realities he has seen face to face and the difficulties he has discovered in his studies?

“It starts with having compassion and knowing that I can’t possibly understand it all,” he says. “I have to trust Jesus with some of those complexities and try to live out what he has called me to do.”

 

Katie Moore (’17)

As a high school junior, Katie Moore was caring for individuals with disabilities at a summer camp. By her final semester at GU, she was lead coordinator for Gonzaga University Special Recreation and “Fun Creator” for more than 100 people with disabilities. With degree in hand, her sights are set on working with L’Arche, a group-home setting where people with and without disabilities share life in community. Here, Moore shares about a summer in India where she saw the power of a single word to change the outlook on those who are not able-bodied.

Investigating Divine Ability
In December 2015, a month before I arrived in Varanasi, India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the beginning of a new label for people with disabilities. He proposed replacing the existing word for people with disabilities (“Viklang,” meaning crippled) with “Divyang” (meaning divine body or ability).

I first heard “Divyang” at the Deva Center, which serves children with intellectual disabilities and which was planning an art exhibition to sell the children’s artwork to promote this new term.

The new word captured my interest. Many newspaper articles featured quotes from individuals with disabilities, or organizations that serve people with disabilities, who rejected the use of the word “Divyang.” Other articles highlighted the excitement around this word and its benefits for people with and without disabilities. I felt conflicted: On one hand, it seemed to have a better connotation than the previous word, but on the other, people with disabilities did not choose this word for themselves, and some are rejecting it. I felt compelled to conduct some research, and after each interview, I felt my opinions sway a little.

Then my field assistant, Sundar-Ji, told me that when he was growing up, many kids would use the word “Vikalang” in a negative connotation as a way to tease someone. The immediate parallel in America is the use of the term “retarded.” The R-word was once a clinical term for people with disabilities, but morphed into slang meaning “stupid, lame, uncool.”

Sundar also explained that because “Divyang” was a word related to the gods, no one will use it in a derogatory way. No one would ever say “Oh, he’s being such a ‘Divyang’” to refer to someone being stupid. Relating someone to a god elevates a person’s status in society, especially in Indian and Hindu culture where religion is intertwined with almost everything. Ultimately, “Divyang” is a step in the right direction for the disability community in India – and beyond – as the Indian media have started replacing all of the old terms for people with disabilities with this term.

For me, one of the most crucial things I learned is the importance of asking questions. I could have easily missed the word’s rich meaning, the controversy behind it or the multitude of opinions. The potential of research and asking questions – being informed – is one of the most powerful abilities a person can possess.

 

 

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