For the first time ever, two graduate students have been tapped by the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame to receive the prestigious annual Hesburgh Global Fellowship simultaneously.
Haleemah Ahmad, who graduates in May 2023 with a master’s in global affairs with a concentration in international peace studies, will return to the Da’wah Institute in Nigeria, in the role of senior technical advisor for the organization’s Peacebuilding and Justice Program. The Da’wah Institute is an internationally recognized organization known for its research, training, and resource development for peacebuilding in the country.
Oneile Baitlotli, who also graduates in May 2023 with a master’s in global affairs with a concentration in sustainable development, will serve as a junior program manager and grant writer for Lady Khama Charitable Trust in Botswana, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing services for vulnerable and marginalized populations living there. A “double Domer,” Baitlotli earned her bachelor’s degree at Notre Dame, majoring in political science and minoring in both international development studies and peace studies.
Historically, one graduate of the Master of Global Affairs program is selected to receive this two-year funded fellowship named after the late Notre Dame President Emeritus Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C. Awardees pursue work related to peace, justice, development, or other related fields. Their fellowship funding subsidizes entry-level employment, commensurate with experience, with partnering organizations and agencies.
“We were thrilled to have the funding this year to support two of our stellar master’s students,” said Bill Goldberg, the Keough School’s program director of the Master of Global Affairs program. “Haleemah and Oneile personify the values and mission of the Hesburgh Global Fellowship: in the case of Haleemah, to foster peaceful coexistence and harmonious relations between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, and with Oneile, to establish significant connections in the realms of peacebuilding and sustainability in Botswana.
“If Father Hesburgh was here, he would be delighted with the selection of this year’s award winners,” said Goldberg, “both of whom will continue to do great work in the world.”
In her role as senior technical advisor, Ahmad will develop holistic peacebuilding programs at the Da’wah Institute, while also integrating improved program design, management and evaluation tools to projects there. The organization has been at the forefront of addressing the misuse of religious narratives by extremist groups to recruit followers. Over the past decade, the Da’wah Institute has studied more than 200 religious recruitment narratives for extremist Islamist groups and has developed counter-narratives and resources. It also trains religious leaders and community influencers as a means to build individual and community resistance to fringe groups in Nigeria. As part of this work, Ahmad and the Da’wah Institute will partner with the Christian Association of Nigeria to defuse tension and mitigate clashes between Muslims and Christians that are also linked to ethnic and tribal identities.
“My graduate education has equipped me with a unique skill set, one that has enabled me to better understand root causes and drivers of violent extremism, as well as the range of approaches to addressing them,” said Ahmad.
“I am confident that I can contribute meaningfully to the Da’wah Institute’s efforts to counter fanaticism in Nigeria. And I am so grateful for the Hesburgh Global Fellowship, as it will allow me to serve my community and country in this capacity.”
Meanwhile, Baitlotli will oversee activities for three projects at Lady Khama Charitable Trust in her role as the junior program manager and grant writer—the emPOWERment Project, the Specialized Wheelchair Initiative, and Patron’s RAK.
The emPOWERment Project installs electricity-ready boxes in low-income, single mother households. Access to electricity means that women will no longer need to travel long distances to gather firewood for cooking and heating. The Specialized Wheelchair Initiative provides wheelchairs and other posture devices to nearly 100 underprivileged children with mobility issues. Wheelchairs are built to navigate Botswana’s harsh terrain. During their time in the program, children receive three devices over their lifetime, which includes assessments, fittings and upskilling of their caregivers. Finally, the Patron’s RAK works to provide basic necessities throughout the year to those in need.
Throughout, Baitlotli will track progress and create metrics for success to evaluate a program’s impact. Additionally, she will seek to raise funds for the organization through grant writing.
“I appreciate this gift from Notre Dame and the Keough School, as this fellowship will enable me to serve an organization whose mission is rooted in justice and human dignity,” said Baitlotli.
“Lady Khama’s foundational principle, Botho, means humanity to others, and it’s what attracted me to the organization. Growing up in Botswana, the importance of Botho was instilled in me from an early age and has informed how I interact with others. Thanks to the Hesburgh Global Fellowship, I will be able to unite my professional interests and personal values in this role.”
The Keough School’s Master of Global Affairs program prepares students for skilled, effective leadership and careers in government, nongovernmental and civil society organizations, and the private sector. The program integrates rigorous coursework, close engagement with policymakers, multi-disciplinary faculty and students from around the world, and extended field work around the globe.