Working Toward Global Peace Goal of Rangel Fellowship Winner
Georgetown alumna Kawther Berhanu (C’19) received the prestigious 2020 Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship to pursue a career in the Foreign Service, and work toward global peace. The fellowship will cover two years of graduate study, a Congressional fellowship, a U.S. embassy or consulate internship, as well as mentoring and professional development.
Hometown: Snellville, Georgia
Major: Government, concentration in international human rights; minors: Arabic and justice and peace studies
World Experience: Berhanu’s interest in international politics, migration and human rights is driven by her experiences as an Eritrean-American. Displaced because of the Ethiopian-Eritrean War, her parents, like many Eritreans, lived in a number of different nations, including Italy, Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Switzerland. Her 22 aunts and uncles and numerous cousins are scattered throughout a dozen more countries. She jokes that her first experiences with diplomacy were at large family gatherings.
Early on, she developed a deep appreciation for culture and the influence diplomacy can have on individuals, cultures, and communities.
“My upbringing has taught me the value of active listening and cultural humility, which I believe is a prerequisite to bringing communities together to propel sustainable development and democratic governance. I hope to concentrate on public diplomacy.”
Life After Georgetown: After graduation, Berhanu interned for U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington), a 1986 graduate of the College. As a legislative intern, Berhanu supported office work on various civil and human rights policies, notably when she helped organize a member-level briefing and provided policy recommendations on the Sudanese uprising. The young alumna also interned for the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, where she worked on such hearings as “White Nationalist Terrorism at Home and Abroad” and “Oversight of ICE Detention Facilities: Is DHS Doing Enough?”
Berhanu now works as a staff and press assistant in the office of Rep. Karen Bass (D-California), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights and the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.
Research at Georgetown: During her junior year, Berhanu worked for the Bridge Initiative at Georgetown, where she studied Islamophobia trends and led a photojournalism campaign on the Muslim ban before she left to study abroad in Amman, Jordan.
While in Amman, she gained hands-on experience with migration and human rights through interning with the King Hussein Foundation on Human Rights, where she supported the execution of a project supporting women at the Syria-Jordan border. She furthered her understanding of the local impact of migration crises while volunteering at the 7Hills Skate Park for Sawiyan, a nonprofit organization serving African-origin refugees. She was later awarded a Georgetown Social Innovation and Public Service (SIPS) Fund grant to compile a storytelling project in Amman.
The alumna is confident that these real-world experiences have prepared her for her career.
“As a diplomat, I will strive to build on the relationships and experiences I have gained in working with several communities around the world to strengthen and increase the number of meaningful partnerships to address local and global issues such as prolonged forced displacement,” Berhanu says.
A Professor’s View: Rochelle Davis, director of Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, researches refugees, war and conflict, particularly the plight of Syrian and Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons.. She taught the course Displacement in the Arab World, a graduate-level course Berhanu took as an undergraduate and which inspired her to pursue her career.
“Kawther brings such strength to the Rangel Fellowship,” says Davis. “She was the only undergraduate in a graduate course I taught on Displacement in the Arab World last year, and she rose to the challenge, which is no easy task given the undergraduate load and the stress and excitement of the final undergrad semester. She researched and wrote a beautiful life story of a displaced Eritrean, in the process learning that one of her many skills is in listening to others and advocating for them and that their stories be heard.”
Honors and Distinctions:
- Bill & Melinda Gates Millenium Foundation Scholar
- Coca-Cola Foundation Scholar
- NAACP and Georgetown Women of Color Superwoman Award 2019
- SIPS Grant, 2018
- Congressional Leadership Development Program Fellow, 2019
- Fulbright Research Grant Semi-Finalist, 2019
Campus and Community Activities:
- President, Muslim Student Association
- Georgetown Scholarship Program: Summer Fellows co-coordinator
- Catholic Charities Virginia Refugee Resettlement College Prep Program co-coordinator
- African Society Board student of color alliance (SOCA) representative
- Yale Black Solidarity Conference
- Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs: network blogger
- Campus Ministry Student Forum Interfaith Board Member
- Georgetown University New Student Orientation Advisor
- Blue and Gray Society, tour guide
Career and Life Goals: Berhanu says that the Rangel fellowship and career track is “a natural progression from her personal and professional life,” but not one for which she was originally planning.
“I have always enjoyed learning languages and experiencing new cultures. I have always been interested in public service and had a deep commitment to uplifting the communities I hail from – be it Black, Muslim, immigrant or underresourced,” she says. “Still, I was unsure of the capacity – and thought I would perhaps pursue development, academia or law. While I could not have imagined the possibility of being a diplomat, I know that this next step would not have been possible without the unwavering support of my community. Above all, I am humbled at the opportunity to continue learning in what will undoubtedly be a life-changing journey.”
-by Shelby Roller (G’19)