Where Arts and Sports Connect… There’s Hope

By Greg Rienzi

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As the graphic images of the World Trade Center attacks played continuously on TV, a 12-year-old Mohammad Modarres sought to fathom the horror as best he could. He drew. In his picture, the two towers stand pre-9/11, tall and draped in U.S. flags–as flowers, doves, butterflies, and hearts rain down on city streets lined with a heart-shaped populace. "Art is a way that I express myself, so that picture was my way of putting death and grief into my own language. I needed a way to grasp it," say Modarres ’11 of the picture, which would later be published in The New York Times book A Nation Challenged.

In high school, Modarres went on to establish The Peace Project, a student group that primarily uses art to raise funds for youth development initiatives around the world. Through the project he helped advise a nonprofit sports center for disabled youth in his parents’ native Iran, and later got involved with a youth surfing club in Gaza that united people of different faiths.

For Modarres, his two passions, art and sports, help him make sense of the world around him. Now, thanks to a prestigious George J. Mitchell Scholarship, the public health major will deepen his academic understanding of the role that sports and the arts can play in social and economic development, especially among young people.

One of 12 scholars selected for the Mitchell Scholarship from a nationwide pool of applicants, Modarres will pursue a master’s degree in development practice, a new program funded by the American-based MacArthur Foundation and offered jointly by University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin in partnership with the National University of Rwanda. Modarres plans to do fieldwork in Rwanda after his studies in Ireland.

At Hopkins, with funding from a Provost’s Undergraduate Research Award, Modarres traveled to South Africa in summer 2009 to work with MonkeyBiz South Africa–a Cape Town-based fair trade organization that uses handicrafts to help finance public health initiatives. There he met the leaders of FIFA’s Football for Hope initiative, a $10 million project in Africa that uses football as a tool for social development. FIFA leaders were so impressed by the young man that they created a new position–program assistant–for him to fill. Modarres took a leave from Hopkins from January through August 2010 to work in Cape Town before and during the World Cup. He assisted in planning and implementing youth-targeted HIV prevention education programs and other youth-led projects focused on combining health education and sports.

His experiences taught him that sports "have the potential to be one of the most effective means of giving disadvantaged communities access to the education they need to prosper," he says.

Even as Modarres prepares to graduate and head to Ireland, he is hard at work on yet another project: raising money to build an arts and sports community center in Afghanistan.

His World Trade Center artwork has been accepted to the collection of the 9/11 Museum at Ground Zero.