West Po Student Wins the Peace Award

Junior, Loza Markos, at Peace Awards Ceremony

Margaret Rogers

Junior, Loza Markos, at Peace Awards Ceremony

Loza Markos, a junior at West Potomac High School, is one of 24 recipients of the Student Peace Awards of Fairfax County. Markos raised $5,000 on GoFundMe to pay for gifts to Ethiopian children with disabilities and volunteered at the Black Lion Hospital Cancer Treatment Center.

“The ‘Student Peace Awards of Fairfax County’ is an independent non-profit in Virginia whose aim is to honor and foster youth work towards peace in our own Fairfax County and across the globe. It was begun by Quakers here in Fairfax, but now has more than nineteen sponsoring organizations including secular civic organizations and communities of faith,” Mr. Rigby, a now-retired, long-term West Po Latin teacher, said.

The Student Peace Awards in Fairfax County began in 2006, with Herndon High School and a Quaker meeting called Herndon Friends Meeting, and gradually expanded. The Quakers, are often considered a pacifist Protestant Christian religious denomination. The Peace Awards began “to encourage everyone to think more about peace as both a means and an end, and to recognize young people who work as peacemakers,” Rigby said.

Markos traveled to Ethiopia, her family’s home country in 2014. She was 10 years old at the time. “Seeing all the kids my own age suffering in ways that so deeply contrasted with my own life was gut-wrenching. I saw a mirror of 10-year-old kids that looked like me, yet were completely different due to a small difference of origination. Nobody deserves the unending poverty they faced,” she said.


Helping Kids

Six years later, she raised money on GoFundMe, and in 2021, volunteered for the Black Lion Hospital, which is called “Tikur Anbessa” in Amharic. Markos served at the Nehemia Autism Center, a school for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, taught the children mathematics and English, and bought them clean, bottled water, according to Margaret Rodgers, Coordinator of volunteers at Student Peace Awards of Fairfax County.

The school principal described in writing, “Loza Markos donated today 1000.00 birr ($400) to three parents. Besides the monetary help, she donated backpacks, pencils, exercise bikes, and bottled water to these families. She promised to continue her support to these families through Nehemia Autism Center. We thank you very much on behalf of the parents. You are a good example for all of us.”

Markos interacted with diverse age groups, “11 kids and most of them were around age 9 and younger and people that I worked with in autistic center ranged from 9 to 11.” The children did not have an abundance of clean water. She gave them bottled water “as consistently as possible.”

Mr. Rigby says he got involved in the Peace Awards in 2018 through a Quaker group called Alexandria Friends Meeting, and contacted the organizers. “Along with the coordinators for the College and Career Office at West Potomac, we have spread word about the Peace Awards among student groups, teachers and students. Every high school and secondary school participating (about 26 in Fairfax) nominates a recipient or organization of Juniors and Seniors who has done extraordinary work to foster peace in our communities and in our world. Once the recipient is chosen by means of an impartial process, my task becomes to interview the recipient, create an introduction and article, and help with the annual reception and awards ceremony.” Students are often featured in newspapers and other media.

The annual reception and ceremony, attended by several members of the school board and Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County, and our representatives in the Virginia General Assembly and U.S. Congress, is held in March. For Mr. Rigby, “it has been a way to honor and encourage student work for peace: to recognize the next generation of advocates and activists who are making our world a better place. Much focus is given to our ability as a society for people to interact in war-making. The Student Peace Awards of Fairfax County promotes activities and education for peace. In the end, peace is the aim of all.”

The student peace awards can only be won once, so Markos cannot win again as a senior. “I still plan to contribute to the peace of my country. My family and I started to raise more money and contribute to our non-profit Ethio-American Humanitarian Services. We are striving to rebuild a school that was burned during the war. The school was located in Amara, Ethiopia, and is in desperate need of humanitarian aid” she said.


Additional Efforts for Peace

Outside of the Student Peace Awards, Markos organized a protest through her church in Washington, D.C., against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the ethnic Tigrayan former ruling political party of Ethiopia which has turned against the central government in a brutal civil war. The school she is trying to rebuild was destroyed in the war.

Mr. Allyn Howe, Markos’ homeroom teacher, told the Peace Awards, “Loza’s work in teaching and charity in both Ethiopia and in the Alexandria area reflect her generosity and eagerness to improve the lives of those around her.” Markos finished by adding, “My service and this award is a milestone that not only represents my service, but signifies the step towards salvation and recovery that my country is able to take each day.”