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Intense Focus on the Rohingya

Intense Focus on the Rohingya

RISD students and faculty grapple with real-world problems at Brown University’s Hack for Humanity.

With refugees from Myanmar facing dire conditions in a massive camp in Bangladesh, participants in a recent Hack for Humanity weekend worked to address their needs.

Earlier this month Professor of Landscape Architecture Elizabeth Hermann and RISD students from various departments, including grad students Yufeng Xu MLA 18 and Jing Zeng MLA 18, seized the opportunity to grapple with real-world problems at Hack for Humanity, a weekend event hosted by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs on March 17 and 18.

Event organizers urged cross-disciplinary teams of Rhode Island students to consider ways to help the more than 500,000 ethnic Rohingya Muslims who have fled Myanmar since last August and are now seeking shelter in Bangladesh—in the largest refugee camp in the world. The 20 teams of participants focused on a variety of related challenges—from providing food and water to developing educational opportunities for displaced children.

“Humanitarian assistance is an incredibly multidisciplinary field, and the goal is for the hackathon to bring together a diverse group of students with a diversity of perspectives,” notes Seth Stulen of the Watson Institute. “We need to rethink the role that everyday citizens can play in the delivery of humanitarian assistance.”

“Working with Brown students was great,” says Zeng. “We approached the problem from diverse backgrounds in design, engineering and public health, and some of the advisors involved had experience working in refugee camps, which they shared with us.”

“We approached the problem from diverse backgrounds in design, engineering and public health....”
grad student jing zeng mla 18

Each team pitched its project to a panel of judges that ultimately awarded three $500 seed grants to further develop the best ideas to emerge from the weekend of brainstorming. Zeng’s team won a prize for its JerryPot water storage container designed to reduce microbial contamination.

In taking on the role of RISD’s liaison, Xu gained valuable experience organizing the cross-disciplinary public event. She hopes to work for a nonprofit after graduating in June and says that the hackathon confirmed her belief that “design can really make a difference in the world.”

Simone Solondz

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