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Creating NGOs and making a difference in people's lives

Twenty-five peacebuilding students at BYUH presented their ideas for non-governmental organizations that could help people around the world

Students presenting their ideas.
Photo by Marwin Villegas

Although she said she has a more interesting name in the works, Cora Westcott presented the non-governmental organization she created as Laie Children’s Theater to her peacebuilding class.

“There is a lack of affordable after-school activities for 7 to 15 year olds in the community,” Westcott said, a junior from Utah studying peacebuilding. “One of the ways I learned how to be myself and gain skills that I still use so much is through theater.” Wescott said this is why she started a completely free theater program for 40 Laie children.

She said the program will match the demographic of the schools in the area, with about 65 percent of participants being from Asia and the Pacific. She also wants to target children who are unable to afford to pay for an opportunity like this, Wescott shared. The workshop will start in February and end with a performance put on by the children in June.

Westcott was one of 25 students who created an NGO as a part of her BYU–Hawaii class. Sidney Shifflet and Addie Allred developed an NGO called Connection Point that works with resettling refugees in Alabama.

“We chose Alabama because it has the highest blue-collar job positions, and that’s our target job sector,” Allred explained, a junior from Virginia studying social work. “The mission is to connect resettling refugees to resources like community mentorship programs and career counseling so they can become financially independent faster.”

Connection Point would have two programs, said Shifflet, a sophomore from Colorado studying peacebuilding and political science. One program would connect refugees with better paying jobs and help them along their career trajectories, Shifflet shared, and the other program would be about community mentorship. A person from the area would be assigned to a refugee to help them with practical knowledge and create a supportive friendship while they are resettling, said Allred.

Two students with their presentation.
Photo by Marwin Villegas

“We both served missions where there was a high body of refugees, but we saw a lot of them had no idea where the resources were. We want to connect them to the resources so they [aren’t] left wandering,” said Shifflet.

Allred said, “I definitely want to [study] forced migration after I graduate. I’m not exactly sure how, but this has been so cool to explore.”

Each NGO was unique to the interests of the students who created it. Kady Hawkins, a senior from Idaho studying peacebuilding, created an organization to provide free online tutoring for children in grades 8 through 12.

“I’ve been working as an EIL tutor for the past year, and I really enjoyed it,” Hawkins said. “I’ve seen how valuable tutoring is.”

Hawkins said she wants the organization to work towards reducing education inequality across the country. She plans to make it free by connecting with volunteers or college students who need internship hours and opportunities as tutors, she explained.

A student explaining her NGO idea.
Photo by Marwin Villegas

Like Westcott, Sussan Vallejo, a junior studying peacebuilding and finance, shared she plans to take her NGO from an idea to an organization. Unlike Westcott, she said she plans to do it later in life, around her forties.

“I’m an immigrant from Guatemala,” Vallejo explained. “The mentality I was raised in was, ‘We don’t have money. You can’t do that.’” She said she has since realized it’s not about how much money someone has, but what they do with it.

Vallejo shared the motto of her NGO is work hard, play hard. “Our purpose is to empower immigrants and minorities by teaching them skills that will help them achieve their dreams,” she said. She explained they would be teaching workshops to immigrants and minorities on skills like financial literacy and career management.

She said she hopes to accomplish this by partnering with businesses who would provide scholarships and job opportunities. “Then the businesses get a pool of highly educated people to come work for them. It’s a win-win,” she added.