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Senior receives Yarrow Award in peace studies

Sara Felsenstein | Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Senior Jenna Knapp will be the recipient of the Peter Yarrow Award in Peace Studies for her exceptional academic work and her peace building efforts both at home and abroad. Knapp was informed her reception of the award last night. She will be presented the award in May, closer to graduation.

Each year the Yarrow Award in Peace Studies is given to an outstanding student in the concentration of Peace Studies with a commitment to justice and service work.

Knapp said her experiences in a Jesuit high school that emphasized social justice, as well as a service trip to El Salvador in high school are what first sparked her interest in conflict resolution.

“I went to El Salvador … and really fell in love with the country and the people that I met there. I knew that I wanted to study something that would contribute to peace and justice in the world.”

Knapp said she chose to come to Notre Dame because of the opportunities offered by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

“Their mission is so unique, and [it is] unlike other schools in that there is a whole program that is just dedicated to Peace Studies,” she said.

One thing that distinguishes the Kroc Institute, Knapp said, is that undergraduate students and graduate students take classes together.

“You’ll study conflicts from all around the world and these graduate students come from the places of conflict, which really humanizes the experience. I have grad students in my classes that come from Sierra Leone, Pakistan, Uganda – places all over the world,” she said.

Knapp said she spent six months last year studying abroad in Uganda and worked with children who lived in sewers and ate out of dumpsters. She lived in a home with 11 children from the street. Knapp and others treated hundreds of wounded children every day.

“I was working with street children, who are a lot more visible [in Uganda] than they are in El Salvador,” she said. “I got to see the way violence affects their lives. They [run away from home] and then they get to the streets and are faced with a greater violence.”

Police, Knapp said, are the children’s greatest enemy.

“These children are seen as criminalized. They are beaten and taken to detention centers,” she said.

Knapp spent much of her time treating wounds inflicted upon children by police.

Knapp has spent each of her summers during college contributing to the peace building cause abroad.

In 2007 she traveled to El Salvador and taught 18 classes a week to first through ninth graders. In 2008 she was in Uganda teaching in rural villages and learning about the challenges of rural education, and in 2009 she returned to El Salvador and spent time at homes for at-risk and street children.

In addition to her experiences abroad, Knapp has continued her community-building efforts during the school year in South Bend.

“I volunteer at [the] St. Adalbert’s [School] in South Bend,” Knapp said. “I help with an after school program there … it’s just accompaniment. I tutor them and mostly play with them. After I tutor I go to the families’ homes. I’ve built relationships with mostly Mexican immigrant families and have been able to gain a better understanding of the really hard reality for immigrants, especially during times of economic hardship.”

These families have invited Knapp to a few of their own Baptisms and quinceañeras, which are Latin American celebrations of 15th birthdays.

“I think that by getting involved in the South Bend community, as well as the international community, I’ve decided that this is where I want to keep going with my life,” she said.

After graduation Knapp hopes to return to El Salvador for the fourth time to continue her peace building efforts.

“I’m applying for a Fulbright [Fellowship] to go ­back to El Salvador to work with an organization that is developing peace building programs within prisons. I would work with prison staff, prisoners and community members … I feel called back to [El Salvador] because of the relationships I’ve made there and the ways I’ve seen violence intimately affect everyone I know.”

Knapp said her experiences both in the classroom and abroad have broadened her understanding of exactly what peace building means.

“I see peace building now as a lot more multifaceted and complex than the typical handshake photo that you see in the media. There’s so much structural violence that leads to the hot violence that is covered in the media. I’ve gained an appreciation for the complexity and the urgency of peace building efforts and how they need to be sustained for long periods of time post-conflict,” Knapp said.

Knapp said she is confident that she will continue to work against violence.

“I don’t know where I’ll end up but more and more I’m okay with that because with the reality I’ve seen in my undergraduate experience I know I’m committed [to the peace building cause],”?she said. “I don’t know in what way [my passion] will manifest.”