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UCI Students Win Dalai Lama Scholarship

Two UCI juniors, Iman Siddiqi and incoming ASUCI President Lydia Natoolo, were awarded UCI’s prestigious XIV Dalai Lama Endowed Scholarship in late April. They will each begin working during fall quarter on a year-long humanitarian project funded by the scholarship, which, for the first time this year, was awarded to two individual projects instead of one.

Siddiqi, a founding member of Hearts of Mercy at UCI, has worked throughout her college career to raise refugee awareness, create scholarships for refugees at UCI, and promote the implementation of refugee scholarships across the UC system. Her project, “A Heartfelt Solution to Conflict,” will create a refugee scholarship fund, pilot a program to help refugees prepare for the TOEFL exam, and “foster a campus environment where refugee students feel safe and welcome.” She also intends on hosting on-campus awareness events, including a symposium on the Syrian conflict and a dinner with local refugees.

Natoolo, incoming ASUCI President and biological sciences major, will apply her passion for medicine to impoverished parts of her home country, Uganda. After immigrating to America 18 years ago, Natoolo began pursuing higher education in an effort to provide medical resources and financial support to her rural home community.

Her non-profit organization, “Love A Community,” has already raised over $20,000 to reduce mortality rates in her home village by bringing clean, running water, basic supplies and solar electricity to a local hospital. Her project hopes to continue the work done through “Love A Community,” which won the Best Non-Profit Startup Award at last week’s ANTrepreneur Awards. Over the next academic year, Natoolo will start an accessory business in Uganda dedicated to employing, supporting, and destigmatizing single mothers and children with HIV and AIDS.

The XIV Dalai Lama Scholarship, which awards recipients $10,000 for UCI fees and $6,000 for project expenses, was inspired by the XIV Dalai Lama’s visit to UCI in 2005. Local philanthropists then started the scholarship fund, which was the first ever to be personally authorized by the Dalai Lama. Over the past decade, he has met with each XIV Dalai Lama Scholar; he returned to UCI in 2011 to personally thank the scholars, and again in 2015 to celebrate his 80th birthday at the Bren Events Center in connection with the Global Compassion Summit.

In past years, the scholarship has either been awarded to a single student, or to two students who split the prize money and work jointly on a year-long project designed to implement “compassion in action,” per the program website. Preference is given to projects which promote cooperation between religions and cultures, diminish poverty and violence, or promote sustainability or gender equity.

This year, the selection committee — comprised of Vice Chancellor Thomas Parham, Director of Financial Aid and Scholarships Rebecca Sanchez, Living Peace Foundation (LPF) Founder Kelly Hallman, and LPF Executive Director Amanda Grant — chose to fund two students’ projects.

Karina Hamilton, program director of the UCI Dalai Lama Scholars and Living Peace series, said that Siddiqi and Natoolo each had “such compelling projects that it was impossible to decide on a single recipient.”

“Both have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to helping others.  For Lydia, it is her passion for helping people living in desperate poverty in Uganda, her home country, and now for helping those in need in the United States, her adopted country.  For Iman, it is her heartfelt commitment to helping refugees and other displaced people so that they can find their way in the world,” said Hamilton. “Both women have demonstrated both compassion and courage in helping others.  His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama believes that all humans have a universal responsibility to help each other and to promote compassion.  Both Lydia and Iman embody this spirit.”

Siddiqi hopes that her scholarship project will help combat “anti-refugee and anti-immigrant rhetoric” and facilitate education for Syrian refugees fleeing a civil war currently in its seventh year.

“As students, we obviously can’t stop the conflicts, but we can work to counter the negative rhetoric and invest in the post-conflict societies of these countries,” said Siddiqi. “We can hold awareness events, and we can provide refugees with higher education to ensure that there is no lost generation. These countries need the next generation of architects, engineers, lawyers, doctors, scientists, journalists, and politicians to help rebuild.”

Natoolo, too, hopes that her small business will give HIV- and AIDS-afflicted women and children in Uganda the resources to survive and further their education.

“Many young students drop out of school because there is a stigma to HIV victims in schools…I know that HIV and AIDS does not define a human being, it is just a disease and that is it,” said Natoolo. “My desire is to empower [single mothers and youth battling HIV and AIDS] but moreso to tell them that HIV and AIDS does not define their story, their humanity does.”

Past Dalai Lama Scholars have implemented programs at UCI which have continued to impact the campus long past their graduation. 2013-14 Scholars Elizabeth Koppe and Blanca Castro launched Peace Week at UCI, a humanitarian awareness event which is still held on campus each January. 2014-15 Scholar Kathy Dong, who currently works at the Cross-Cultural Center, created a still-active UCI organization dedicated to mentoring high schoolers, called Bridging Anteaters. Current Scholar Andrew Hallak formed Global Partners for Sustainability, which was recognized as the best new environmental student organization at the Anteater Awards this spring.

Applications for next year’s scholarship will open in December, with a deadline of mid-February 2018. The scholarship is open to all UCI undergraduates with a GPA of at least 3.0 and at least 90 completed units at UCI.

Correction: The print version of this article stated that Natoolo’s project was based on bringing medical supplies to a Ugandan hospital, rather than starting a small business to support women and children afflicted by HIV and AIDS. The article has been updated to reflect quotes gathered after press time.