Pathway to Peace
Augustana is one of eight colleges that make up the Nobel Peace Prize Forum consortium, each of which sends two students to Oslo, Norway, every summer for a one-of-a-kind program. The Peace Scholars are immersed in experiences to advance their education and understanding of war and conflict, diving into democracy's role in creating a more peaceful world. This opportunity called out to one AU student on a deeply personal level.
For much of her young life, Chofian (JuJu) Abobakr longed for peace. After escaping violence in Iraq when she was nine years old, JuJu and her family spent four years in Turkey hiding the fact they are Kurdish. "It was a really hard time, but I didn't understand a lot of it. What I did understand was that we had to say we were Arabs and not Kurds," says Abobakr, a senior government, international affairs and communications major who is also minoring in theatre." I blended in really well because I spoke Turkish like I was a native."
Despite her ability to blend in, it was risky to send JuJu to school where violence against Kurds was the norm. In an effort to keep her safe, her family kept her out of school for several years. Finally, at 13, JuJu and her family were placed in Sioux Falls as refugees.
After graduating from Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls, JuJu came to AU to study theatre. She loved the art, the drama, and the stories, but soon understood what she loved most was bringing a message to the audience.
"I realized that in every aspect of my life, there's a sprinkle of social justice. In theatre, I pick scripts that are about social justice. When I teach science, I say, 'Hey, we're all equal and the same DNA.' There's always some sort of sprinkle of social justice in those things," she says.
Abobakr has taken her personal experiences and is now using her peace-promoting efforts as a platform on campus. Last March, she put together a celebration of the Kurdish new year, called Nowruz, to bring awareness to the Kurdish culture.
”I think that when you share your culture, you plant a seed of empathy in other people's hearts,” says Abobakr. “Planting a seed of empathy in other people's hearts by sharing your culture is the first step to achieving any sort of peace.”
She has continued to weave that thread of peace over the summer as she traveled first to Lillehammer for the Nansen Dialogue Summer School, then to the University of Oslo for the seven-week Peace Scholars Seminar. “I was able to learn from individuals who have dedicated their whole life to peacemaking, and also experienced the academic setting of a large, diverse, courageous environment. I want to bring that knowledge back to the Augustana community,” she says.
This unique experience sets the stage for JuJu’s plans for a career in international relations to advocate for the millions of families and children around the world who have been displaced due to war, poverty, and violence.