Fairfield Now - Fall 2008
Changing the World:
From used sneakers to microloans, Fairfield students find unique ways to help others
By Meredith Guinness
Over the years, many Fairfield students have been inspired to put off the work world and join the Peace Corps, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and other established service organizations, providing crucial help to those in need around the world.
And every year, a few others - struck by a particular dilemma they run across in class or during their life's journey - come up with their own unique way of making the world a better place. Here are four of their stories.
Sneakers for Senegal
Mamadou Diakhate '08 has gone through a lot of sneakers in his basketball career. Even before he joined the Stags squad during the 2005-06 season after a year at Eastern Kentucky University, he had to continually replace shoes worn to disintegration by the intense heat and concrete courts of his native Senegal.
Sneakers are in very short supply there, leaving aspiring players with nowhere to turn.
"I went home with new shoes for my family and close friends," Diakhate said of the situation. "But others came up to me while I was home and asked me if they could have the shoes I was wearing. The shoes were used, but they were still in good shape. I gave away the used shoes that I had with me and everyone was very appreciative."
And Diakhate was inspired: He decided to collect sneakers from his teammates and other players to bring back to Senegal each summer. In the last four or five years, that added up to about 1,000 pairs.
It isn't as simple as it sounds. In the beginning, Diakhate footed the bill for shipping costs and, while some friends ship their own, he has often used all his spending money and paid for overweight suitcases full of shoes. The last time he traveled home, airport personnel remembered him and his overstuffed bags. "They said, 'You're the one from last year with the shoe thing!'
"But then one day, I saw this kid playing basketball wearing a pair of shoes that I brought over. It made me feel good about what I was doing," said Diakhate, who has attained local celebrity status in his hometown. "I decided that I would continue as long as I had money in my pocket."
Some clubs have sent back African clothing and handmade jewelry to thank donors, though payment is not requested. "It's not much, but it's all they have to give," said Diakhate, who spent this summer working at the Ed Cooley Basketball Camp on campus. "And those who receive the thank you gifts are just as appreciative for the thoughtfulness. I think that's when they realize how much those shoes mean to the players in Senegal."
At the end of the school year, the urgency to pack up and get home can outweigh a student's care for what might get left behind. And so it goes that when the dust settles, campus staff often face dumpsters full of cast-off furniture, clothes, and old appliances left in and around the dorms.
After a January mission trip to impoverished regions of Jamaica, Katie Waters '08 and her 11 fellow volunteers saw opportunity in these trashed treasures. "Students throw away a lot and some of it's really good stuff," said the Denver, Colo., native.
So they created StagShare, a collaboration with Bridgeport-based Salvation Army in which students bring gently-used furniture, computers, clothing, and even non-perishable food to drop off points at the RecPlex and Alumni Hall. In May, Salvation Army made its first run to campus, picking up the goods and distributing them to people who could use them in Bridgeport.
The program, which also included members of Students for Social Justice, the Environmental Club, and Residence Life, helps others and is environmentally sound, Waters said. It also saves the University the cost of disposing of the items. "We were overwhelmed by the response from students. There were piles of stuff!" said the communication/art history major. "It was our final hurrah to give back to both Fairfield and the community."
Sustainable equity for women around the world
It's estimated about 1.2 billion people around the world live on less than one dollar a day - and 70 percent of them are women and girls. Faced with these grim statistics, the nine seniors in Dr. Gita Rajan's Women's Studies capstone group created "Sustainable Equity for Women: Impacting the Present and Building the Future" (SEW).
The SEW Fund is a micro-lending initiative that loans funds to women entrepreneurs. The person-to-person venture focuses on empowering individuals to make small loans directly to women in Central and South America, and South Asia. Administered through Kiva, a well-known micro-lending channel, the project will continue, even though all the students graduated in May.
Lauren Campbell '08 initiated the idea in Dr. Rajan's group. "I am thrilled that Sustainable Equity for Women emerged as a collaborative effort," she said. "This is our legacy to the University, and the precious gift that Women's Studies has given to us."
J. Farrell Lewis '08 was part of group. She said that the Women's Studies program and the SEW project helped her reshape and contextualize her years of study at Fairfield. "As a business major, I have learned so much from the SEW project that I am surprised Women's Studies is not a central part of our education here," she said.
"When women are afforded economic opportunity, the results are astounding: They send children to school, run successful businesses, live healthy lives," said Kathryn Barry '08, a participating student.
"At the heart of SEW stand women who are dedicated to educating young girls who will one day become mothers," added Kristie Davida '08. "Creating a future of justice begins with educating the women who will learn from past generations and teach their children, serving as a valuable link between generations."
Loans average $50, and each woman is expected to repay the debt within 18 months. The University's administration has praised the effort, and several campus departments and centers made donations to the project at an April reception with its creators.
"This project demonstrates a deep awareness of Fairfield's mission to use our intellectual gifts to design and create sustainable projects to assist those in need," said Dr. Mary Frances Malone, associate academic vice president.
The project has already raised thousands, and the Women's Media Center, a non-governmental organization, highlighted SEW on its website. The entire process has been eye opening for the Fund's creators. "I was fascinated by the SEW Fund as it transformed academic theory into action," said Michelle Holmberg '08. "Effecting change on a global scale was no longer relegated to the pages of a book."
"Communicating my passion to work on social justice issues and using theories from global feminisms has yielded very rich and satisfying results with this group of amazing young women," said Dr. Rajan. "(They) have created an imaginative and sustainable legacy for Fairfield University."
The Global Response to AIDS
Marco Ambrosio '07 is a firm believer in hope. And that's even more astounding when you consider what he's seen in the last year. Inspired during a study abroad trip to Nicaragua, the New Jersey native is writing a book about global HIV/AIDS that focuses attention on successful and renowned HIV organizations around the world. Since his Commencement he's traveled to India, Thailand, Rwanda, Nicaragua, and San Francisco and, at press time, was planning a trip to a needle exchange program in the Ukraine. After volunteering at each locale, he interviews the directors and people living with HIV. Many of the questions address individual empowerment, social justice, and hope. Ambrosio believes that hope - the most important outcome of a successful program - receives little publicity in the global fight on HIV/AIDS.
In the meantime, he keeps friends, family, and even strangers up to date with photos and writings through his blog (regionalhiv.blogspot.com), the success of which caught Ambrosio by surprise.
"I want to convey to the average person that hope and HIV/AIDS share much in common. Both transcend race, creed, and culture, and both require action," said Ambrosio, who designed his own major.
Ambrosio said much of his inspiration came from his Jesuit education and he credits his connection to Fairfield, including critical logistical assistance from Jesuits on campus, such as the Rev. Richard Ryscavage, S.J., and the Rev. Michael Doody, S.J., and others around the world. It was also at Fairfield that he met Dr. Paul Farmer, the 2006 Convocation speaker who has dedicated his life to providing medical care for the poor. The relationship allowed Ambrosio to do research at Farmer's clinic in Rwanda.
"Above all, this book is meant to be about 'the doers,' the ones enacting change," he said. "There is great work being done around the world that is making a difference and my objective is to shine a light on it."
Carolyn Arnold and Jack Jones contributed to this report.