Recently, Deivid Rojas ’11 was granted a Watson Fellowship to travel to Peru, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, and Turkey. The Fellowship was awarded for Rojas’ proposed project, which is speaking with internally displaced persons about their situation and about the effectiveness of aid.
Daily Gazette: So, can you tell us a little about your proposed project? What will you be doing?
Deivid Rojas: Throughout my time here at Swarthmore, I co-founded an organization that works with internally displaced youth in BogotÃ¡, Colombia and I’ve been doing that for the last three years. It’s called Taller de Paz and it recently got a Pericles award. So the project I proposed to do through the Watson is about internally displaced communities around the world; there’s currently, people estimate, between 25 million to 50 million internally displaced people throughout the world. And I think it’s an issue that doesn’t get a lot of attention—people associate internally displaced people with refugees or immigrants. But, it’s like you’re a refugee in your own country, which means you’re bound by the laws of the same country and society that expelled you. In Colombia, which is where I’m from, the government is directly responsible—the government and guerilla groups and, to some extent, the U.S.—is responsible for the case in Colombia. And it’s between Colombia and Sudan for the highest amount of internally displaced people—Colombia’s around 5 to 7 million.
So, for my project, I’m particularly interested in the stories of the internally displaced and the way the communities tell their stories. I’m interested in the way these communities look at and perceive the initiatives that exist to impact and alleviate their situation—both from a governmental to a grassroots level. And lastly, how they tell their past and what they hope for their future. I’d like to learn about that multi-leveled dynamic.
I’m still not sure if I’ll accept the Watson Fellowship but if I do, I proposed to go to Peru, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, and Turkey.
DG: So, with a Watson Fellowship, there’s nothing formal that you have to produce from your studies, right?
DR: Yeah, one I thing I wanted to do was construct some way of sharing that information. I would like to share the stories among these communities as a starting point. But also, in the end, I might craft it into a documentary or a collection of pictures and stories, or maybe all of those. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center is one of the few organizations that’s focused on the plight of the internally displaced and they are one of the only organizations that works worldwide. They’re based in Sweden, and I’ve been talking to them about incorporating my project into their larger institutional body. But you’re right, the program is interested in unique projects and they want you to have good ideas, but they’re more interested in individual development and personal reflection—they just want you to have an amazing experience—that’s why it’s called the “dream scholarship.”
DG: So, if you decide to take the Fellowship, do you see the experience possibly influencing your future studies or what you decide to do later in life?
DR: Most immediately it will inform my experience in Colombia because that’s something I want to keep working on and it’s something I’m very close to and serious about. But I think that, in the long run, it’s definitely going to challenge me in a lot of ways that I haven’t even thought about: providing my own structure, getting into situations where I’m going to have to challenge myself, stepping out of my comfort zone, and self-reflecting. So, I think learning how to do that and being comfortable is helpful in anything that you want to do. But, in general, I’m really interested in issues of immigration, being an immigrant myself to this country. Especially now in the United States, when you have such a big and crucial debate over immigration. That’s something that I foresee myself doing and I think that looking at these different cases of immigration and movement and mobility and how these different states and societies handle that will be interesting and informative.
DG: Do you have any concerns about being an American student and going into these places where you even say that America might have played a role in the situations of the internally displaced people?
DR: Yeah, I think it’s something you always have to be aware of. As American students—not just in this program, but whenever we travel—we have to recognize that and what that means in terms of the privilege that you have and how that impacts conversations, how people perceive you, and power dynamics. So that’s definitely something that I’m going to be aware of. And not only that, but things like race, gender, ability, sexual orientation—as a traveler and as someone who wants to talk to people from other countries, you have to be aware of that.
DG: The Watson Fellowship stipulations that you’re not allowed to come back into America for a year, so how do you feel about that?
DR: It’s definitely a challenge—I consider myself a very family oriented person and I’ve always been really close to my family. But, if I do take it, my family’s been saying that it will just be forcing them to come visit, because that’s allowed. But I love traveling. My freshman year, the first summer I was here, I went to Bosnia to do the Swarthmore Bosnia project. And every summer here at Swat, I’ve traveled out of the country, mostly to Colombia. I love traveling on my own; I do a lot of couch surfing and enjoy meeting new people, so I don’t think it’ll be much of an issue.