Goldmark: A little resolution may go a long way

The new year is a few days away.

The new year is a few days away. This is a time to think about our resolutions, about hopeful things -- perhaps about a hopeful undertaking called The Resolution Project. (Credit: Tribune Content Agency / M. Ryder)

Peter Goldmark

Peter Goldmark, former publisher of the International Herald Peter Goldmark

Peter Goldmark writes a weekly column for Newsday. He is

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The new year is a few days away. This is a time to think about our resolutions, about hopeful things -- perhaps about a hopeful undertaking called The Resolution Project.

The initiative (resolutionproject.org) challenges college students to propose projects that would improve something -- in any field, anywhere in the world. It also encourages students proposing projects to do so as an international team comprising members from more than one country. The Resolution Project awards grants to teams with winning ideas, usually about $2,000, with which to start work on their projects.

I recently talked with one of the winning teams led by Lamia Bazir, a 24-year-old Moroccan woman in graduate school at Columbia University. Her teammate is Taylor Strosnider, 23, of Cincinnati, a law student at Michigan State.

Their project is to help a group of women in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco build a hammam. If you or I recognize the word "hammam" at all, we think of a luxurious steam bath. That is not quite what is going on here. The village of Adghagh is poor, with problems in water supply and delivery, and consequently hygiene. Sometimes a child goes a month without bathing, and adults longer. The village is not on the electric grid; the energy that is erratically available is so unpredictable and expensive that in winter instead of having a warm tub of water in which to bathe, village women sometimes heat the air in a big plastic bag with a candle. Then, still holding the candle, they put the bag over their heads to stand in to keep warm, and pour a few cups of water heated with a gas lamp over themselves to wash. Not exactly a safe operation; a few have lost their lives when the candle has released a toxic substance from the bag and the villager has passed out and then suffocated in the bag.

The Adghagh hammam will be for both men and women -- at different times, of course. It will be solar-powered. Getting the necessary bureaucratic permissions and organizing the project will increase the power and skills of the women in the village, Lamia explained. That would be the most valuable asset for future development to come out of the project, and why the project is called Empowering Women in the Atlas.

The Resolution Project finds most of its fellows through international youth summits where young people from around the world debate and work on global issues. So Resolution draws from a pool of able young people already committed to understanding and working with colleagues from other countries. It is the young people with their dreams and drive that power the projects. Many of the international teams that win the competition continue to work together on their projects well after the original grant has been exhausted. This is the case with Lamia and Taylor, who are helping the villagers in Adghagh raise the $75,000 needed to complete the hammam project.

I asked Lamia and Taylor whether determined young people understand fully the extent of the challenges our generation is leaving them. "Challenges give us an opportunity to think sharper," said Lamia, a strong young woman brimming with self-confidence. Taylor replied, "We both see what direction we want our generation to go in. We want to bridge the gap between rich and poor. We're more globalized . . . you need to leave your back yard and understand how other people live."

Lamia and Taylor are from different countries and have different backgrounds. But they share a vision, a generation, an impressive measure of confidence and determination, and a project.

I asked Lamia how she strikes a balance in her life given all she is doing. "It's not about finding balance," she said. "It's about managing the imbalances."

A little resolution may go a long way.

Peter Goldmark, a former budget director of New York State and former publisher of the International Herald Tribune, headed the climate program at the Environmental Defense Fund. He conducted the interview with Lamia Bazir with his daughter, Lara Goldmark, a specialist in Moroccan development.