November 7, 2016

YES Abroad Experience Fosters Alumna's Passion for Human Rights

Savannah with former U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina Patrick Moon Savannah Wooten is a 2012-2013 Kennedy-Lugar YES Abroad program alumna. She lived in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina with a host family during her senior year of high school and attended Druga gimnazija high school as a part of her exchange. Savannah was one of the first five students to travel to Bosnia and Herzegovina with the YES Abroad program and has carried this experience with her throughout the last three years.
 
Savannah's 10 months in Sarajevo, a city violently besieged from 1992-1995 during the breakup of the Former Yugoslavia, sparked within her a deep interest in the power of policy and diplomacy to prevent, mitigate, and comprehensively respond to international conflict and mass atrocity crimes. She applied to college with this interest in mind and currently attends both the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University through a collaborative scholarship program called the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program. The program, unique in nature, is awarded to ambitious undergraduates seeking to make transformational contributions to society and fully funds four years as a joint, full-time student at both universities. 
 
At UNC-CH and Duke, Savannah is majoring in Public Policy and Peace, War, and Defense. During her first two years, Savannah has engaged in comparative human rights coursework and research in Chile, Jordan, Nepal, and Rwanda where she has studied a variety of pressing human rights and conflict-related subjects, including indigenous rights, refugee and asylum seeker migration, oppressive regimes, gender-based violence and discrimination, the intersection of religion and human rights, transitional justice, ethnic conflict, international criminal law, atrocity prevention, and post-conflict reconciliation and restoration policies. 
 
On campus, Savannah is involved in a variety of related organizations. She writes for The Hill Nonpartisan Political Journal, is a member of student-led think tanks on foreign policy and equal justice, and leads an organization called the Coalition for Human Rights that promotes human rights discussion and advocacy on campus. 
 
Savannah has also held several professional positions. In the summer of 2014, Savannah served as a Policy, Broadband, and Journalism Intern at the Center for Rural Strategies in Whitesburg, Kentucky, a non-profit seeking to improve social and economic conditions in rural America by creating and celebrating rural journalism, conducting original research, and advocating for a stronger and more united rural American voice and political platform. 
 
As Savannah enters her third undergraduate year, she currently holds two DC-based internships. She serves as the Mid-Atlantic Organizer on the Managing Committee of STAND: The Student-Led Movement to End Mass Atrocities and as a Campus Organizer at the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative of the Enough Project. 
 
Ultimately, Savannah hopes to bring her academic experiences, research interests, and outside engagement to culmination in a career in human rights law and policy. She is considering a career as a Foreign Service Officer, as a human rights or international criminal lawyer, or as a civil society advocate.
 
Whichever route she chooses, Savannah's overall experience and trajectory was shaped by her initial exposure to international conflict and human rights violations during her exchange year in Sarajevo. She will never forget the experience or the lessons it taught her about the roles of the international community in preventing atrocity crimes, the impact of war and violence on civilians, and the struggles of rebuilding a society post-war.