KNOXVILLE—Most college students spend their summers lazing around their parents’ house or taking a couple classes, but Jennifer Smith helped change the world.
Smith, a senior Russian language and global studies major from Maryville, along with three other University of Tennessee students, Mary Carnes, a junior in global studies from Memphis; Joyous Joiner, a global studies major from Knoxville, and David Brundage, a senior in aerospace engineering from Wise, Virginia, spent seven weeks of their summer volunteering in Uganda with Nourish International.
The mission of Nourish International is to eradicate poverty by engaging students and empowering communities. For a project to be approved, the community must show initiative and desire for improvement. Students help provide the empowerment.
“We’re part of a global movement of college students who believe they can change the world,” said Smith. “Although eradicating global poverty is an incredibly ambitious—some would say impossible—goal, that’s what we are attempting to do, as a community of social entrepreneurs.
“The primary goal of our work in Uganda was to create a sustainable source of food and income for the school and orphanage, House of Hope. Another goal was to form a lasting relationship with the House of Hope, in order to monitor the continued progress of the project for years to come,” Smith said.
The four students lived and worked at the House of Hope, located about two miles outside the city of Kyazanga, where forty boys and girls live and 250 come from their homes to school every day, some walking as far as six miles.
House of Hope is run by Jennifer Tumwizere, a local woman who wanted to create a garden where the school could grow its own food. But Tumwizere needed extra funding and manpower to make it happen—and that’s where the young, excited college students came in.
As a result of fundraising throughout the year, the students brought $1,500 to the project to buy tools, irrigation lines, seedlings, and fertilizer and to hire prison inmates to come clear the land and install the irrigation.
The student volunteers worked alongside people from the Ugandan community to help the garden come to life. They planted tomatoes, onions, spinach, peppers, watermelon, cabbage, and eggplant in the garden, and then dug three-foot-deep holes to plant mango, avocado, and orange trees.
“It was amazing to witness the excitement that all the children had at the prospect of adding spinach to their diet,” said Smith. “What kid in the US would ever be happy to eat spinach?”
None of the students had any prior agricultural experience, but worked with members of the Ugandan community to learn about gardening and irrigation techniques.
By the time the student team left, all the garden required was watering and care. Now, a certain block of the class time at the school is now allocated for classes to take turns watering the plants.
“Because vegetables are such rare commodities in that area of Uganda, the House of Hope will now not only be able to provide the children with a new source of nutrients, but they can also sell the vegetables at a highly profitable rate,” Smith said.
Everything ended well, but the team encountered plenty of problems along the way. Digging deep holes for the trees was difficult work with poor-quality tools. Smith caught malaria. There were major complications transferring funds to Uganda that halted progress for weeks. And a teacher at the school quit during their stay, so the students had to teach some classes.
“Nourish taught me a new way to do business,” Smith said. “Previously, I could not understand the personal benefit of running a non-profit, but I knew that the conventional capitalist business ethic was lacking something, as well. Nourish taught me how to form a business that aligns 100 percent with my values. I now know the basics of running a business, where I can benefit while employees, customers, the environment, and the world as a whole also benefits,” Smith said.
The UT Knoxville chapter of Nourish International began one year ago. They are now researching organizations to find volunteer opportunities for the summer of 2012. They are also seeking grants to help with funding those trips.
Nourish International is on twenty-four campuses across the US. Since 2003, Nourish International has sent $212,280 and 281 students abroad, working with community partners on forty-five projects from around the world.
For more information on Nourish International, visit http://nourishinternational.org/.
C O N T A C T :
Stephanie Dixon (865-974-2125, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, email@example.com)