In September 2013, SAIS alumna Elif Yavuz and her partner, Ross Langdon, were shopping at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, when al-Shabbab militants attacked the building. The couple—mere weeks from becoming parents for the first time—were among the more than 60 people killed during the militants' 80-hour siege.
To honor Yavuz's memory, more than 100 people—including SAIS classmates from the Class of 2004—endowed the Elif Nazmiye Yavuz Fellowship at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., part of the $377 million raised for graduate student fellowships and scholarships over the past eight years during Johns Hopkins University's Rising to the Challenge campaign.
Their collective donations in memory of Yavuz, along with matching funds from another SAIS alumnus, Bob Hildreth, are designated to support students with career and research interests similar to Yavuz's: humanitarian assistance and public health in the developing world.
"We constantly hear about wars, conflicts, and health crises, and Elif's legacy will carry on in the work of others who are helping in those situations," says Julie Hackett, MA (SAIS '04), who helped raise funds for the fellowship alongside fellow alumni Camilo Tellez, MA (SAIS '05), and Alexandra Jaeckh, MA (SAIS '04). "These fellowships will help those people be ready for that work."
The current recipient is Kathleen Fallon, who is pursuing a dual master's degree in international relations and public health from SAIS and the Bloomberg School of Public Health. She has been active in human rights advocacy since she was a high school student learning about the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. After graduating from college, she worked with genocide survivors in Rwanda and Iraqi refugees in Syria. Then, when the Syrian crisis escalated, she shifted her focus to Syrian medical personnel and rescue workers.
"Within Syria, more than any other sector, medics and health personnel are aggressively and systematically targeted by the government," Fallon says. "Since the beginning of the revolution, and the then-peaceful protests, more than 800 medical personnel have been killed in Syria."
Fallon is exactly the kind of student Hackett and her classmates had in mind when they came up with the idea to create a fellowship in Yavuz's name after her SAIS memorial service. Hildreth, a former member of the SAIS Board of Advisors, pledged a $25,000 match gift to help achieve the initial fundraising goal of $50,000. When donors met that challenge, Hildreth pledged a second $25,000, and the fellowship reached the $100,000 endowment threshold shortly thereafter.
"We wanted to fund this in a way that would bring together as many people in her class as possible," Hildreth says. "This was a cause driven, really, by her classmates."
Adds Hackett: "Our Bologna class was so close, and we've stayed really close. [The fellowship drive] was a product of our community and our love for Elif, and maybe a bit of the helplessness we felt of 'what can we do?' after such a tragedy. This was a great way to memorialize her."
Fallon says she plans to return to supporting humanitarian and stabilization efforts in Syria after she completes her Hopkins degrees.
"By receiving the fellowship and learning more about Elif and the work she was doing, I feel quite connected to her goals and the importance she placed on international relations and public health," she says. "It's humbling to have a fellowship in her name."