Marina Lika Uehara '20 combined her interests in literacy, communications, and international development to develop The Box of Stories project, which she is set to execute following a $10,000 Projects for Peace grant.Marina Lika Uehara '20 combined her interests in literacy, communications, and international development to develop The Box of Stories project, which she is set to execute following a $10,000 Projects for Peace grant. Credit: Yoi Ashida ’20

Uehara’s winning Projects for Peace proposal, The Box of Stories, will incorporate “a lovely library on wheels,” she says, which will travel to villages throughout Yucatá́n to bring the joy of reading to children with no access to books. The aim of the project is to encourage, through reading and writing, the expansion and development of children’s imaginations, creative abilities, and powers of self-expression.

“Filled with extraordinary, fantastic, and adventurous narratives, our itinerant box on wheels will bring these magical, word-filled pages to children’s eyes, hands, and hearts all across the state of Yucatán,” Uehara says. “Storytelling allows you to imagine, dream, and go beyond the reality that you are living in, and for children that liberty to dream is really valuable.”

The ruins of a large and complex Mayan city built in the state of Yucatán around c. AD 800–900. This specific temple, El Castilla, dominates the archaeological site still popular today.The ruins of a large and complex Mayan city built in the state of Yucatán around c. AD 800–900. This specific temple, El Castilla, dominates the archaeological site still popular today.

Projects for Peace is an initiative for all undergraduate students currently enrolled at a Davis United World College Scholars Program partner school, including COA. Applicants are encouraged to design grassroots projects which promote peace and address the root causes of conflict among parties. The initiative was created in 2007 through the generosity of Kathryn W. Davis, a lifelong internationalist and philanthropist who died in 2013 at 106 years of age.

Uehara has traveled twice to Yucatán while at COA—once as part of COA’s study abroad program there (held in partnership with Programas de Inmersión Cultural en Yucatán), and again more recently as part of an independent study on pedagogy and community empowerment. Previously, Uehara completed her COA internship in Sao Paolo, Brazil, working as a coordinator with a non-governmental organization called The HerStory Campaign, which promotes an international platform for the stories of women and girls to be shared. The combination of the internship and her time in Mexico led Uehara to her Projects for Peace proposal.

“While I was doing my residency there, I kept thinking about ways I could give back to the people that helped, hosted, and adopted me into their families, and that’s what became this project,” Uehara says. “I wanted to create a project that could reach a large amount of kids and could move from place to place, but still offer the experience of being in an environment with books, where they could read and really come into contact with words and storytelling.”

Marina Lika Uehara's Project for Peace proposal was inspired by her passion for human rights, world literature, and her internship with The HerStory Campaign in Sao Paolo, Brazil, which is part of a worldwide effort to amplify the voices of women and girls in the global discourse on gender equity.Marina Lika Uehara's Project for Peace proposal was inspired by her passion for human rights, world literature, and her internship with The HerStory Campaign in Sao Paolo, Brazil, which is part of a worldwide effort to amplify the voices of women and girls in the global discourse on gender equity. Credit: Yoi Ashida ’20

Uehara’s academic focus at COA has centered on human rights, social movements, and world literature. She grew up being encouraged to read, she says, and books have continued to influence her as she has developed interest in literacy, communications, and international development.

COA peace studies and language professor Gray Cox, the on-campus director for Uehara’s recent work in Yucatán, says that he was impressed by her drive and commitment to her studies and student projects.

“Lika is remarkable for her infectious hope, her passion for engaging with others, and her extraordinary ambition to have a major impact empowering the lives and voices of young indigenous women,” Cox says. “The folks working with her in Yucatán to develop her Project for Peace were all deeply impressed by the energy, drive, and commitment she brought to it. She was able to draw in all sorts of people to help develop the plan and find the resources to make it happen.”