Destination: Zanzibar

Who: Pat Cronin and Kathryn Serra
Age: 21-22
What: Co-Founded University of Virginia Chapter of Students for Students International

In communities and across the globe, young people helping young people can go a long way. Pat Cronin and Kathryn Serra followed the 1995 founders of S4Si at UNC and continue to help make a difference. Check out the article from The Cavalier Daily, the UVA Student Newspaper.

Destination: Zanzibar
Students at the University work to help their peers halfway around the globe

Irene Kan
Cavalier Daily Senior Writer
University students work year-round to make a difference in the University community. From raising money for charitable causes in the Charlottesville community to playing with kids or spending time with the elderly, University students find many ways to be involved in the local area. But what about the global community?

Fourth-year College student Pat Cronin said this is the question he had in mind when he co-founded Students for Students International. a group aiming to increase access to education in Zanzibar, an island region of Tanzania. According to Cronin’s co-founder fourth-year Kathryn Serra, 79 percent of the Tanzanian population goes through middle school, but only 29 percent continues on to high school. S4Si works to increase the number of students who go on to high school, and eventually college.

In order to accomplish this task, all 14 members must have large responsibilities. But, Serra said, the structure of the organization is “very fluid,” which allows the different parts of the organization, such as fundraising, service and operation, to work in conjunction with each other.

Sarah Elaine Hart, a second-year in the College, said her personal responsibilities were more time-consuming at the beginning of the semester, but when they die down, someone else’s responsibilities will become heavier. At that point, she can lessen the load for someone who helped her earlier.

“Somehow it works out so we can help each other out,” she said.

A positive change

In the two years that the group has been in existence at the University, it has focused primarily on funding scholarships for certain students at the Ben Bella School, a science and technology magnet school in Stone Town, Zanzibar. The town may be small, Cronin said, but that doesn’t mean its inhabitants should be overlooked.

The African students are chosen by the S4Si chapter at UNC-Chapel Hill, where the group originated in 1995. These students feel privileged to receive what students here often take for granted: a high school education, Hart said.

“What’s astounding to me is that half the amount I spend on textbooks a semester pays for a year of school,” Hart said. “It’s mind-boggling.”

For the past two years, the group has set a fundraising goal of $10,000 to be used to fund scholarships and other projects for the school, according to Hart.

Their latest project is to build a library for a girls’ hostel in Zanzibar, Cronin said. In January 2008, the group will be traveling to Stone Town to transform a dilapidated storage closet twice the size of a dorm room and filled with broken mattresses into a room of desks, computers and books. The group will be staying in the same hostel that they will be revamping.

The Rosetta Stone program, a computerized language instruction program, will also be installed on the school’s computers to help improve the students’ proficiency in English, which is the language they test in, but is often their second or third language, Cronin said.

“It’s going to be a really incredible experience; it’s going to be intense,” predicted Hart, who has never been on the trip before. “We need to make sure the money’s going where it’s supposed to be.”

S4Si will be accompanied by the University chapter of Engineers Without Borders, a nonprofit organization of engineers dedicated to improving the quality of life in developing communities around the world. The engineers will be doing the actual building of the desks and shelves. According to both Cronin and Serra, partnering with other groups in order to distribute and leverage the workload is essential.

Making it happen

The library project is possible partly because of donations from various organizations both large and small, ranging from the local library to Amazon.com. S4Si raises money through a mailing campaign, grants and events, Cronin said.

The mailing campaign includes an informational letter about the cause and the sponsored scholars that is sent out to alumni, family and friends. According to Hart, who is in charge of the campaign, it is the organization’s largest source of revenue.

Matching grants are obtained from various corporations with the help of the Forum for African Women Educationalists, a pan-African non-government organization. Other revenue is generated through raffles and bar nights. Although these may seem to be small events, their effects go a long way.

This region of the world “has an income of less than a dollar a day, so when we sell a raffle ticket for $3, that has a huge impact,” Hart said.

The money is not only used for scholarships and projects like the library — plans are also in the works for a college guide and a trust fund.

The guide would be comprised of a directory of schools, scholarships, and financial aid possibilities that the students could use as references for their lives after high school, Serra said. The universities are from all over the world, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Kenya.

The trust fund runs in a similar vein, as it would ensure that the scholars will continue receiving funding for their entire high school career, Hart said.

A growing mission

Through their work during the past two years, members of the group said they have found that it is almost impossible not to expand their goals in order to continue helping the students. It’s particularly tempting to venture into different fields now that the group has established a firm foundation, Hart said.

Two years after its commencement, the group is at a “tipping point,” Cronin agreed.

“We are at a unique point right now where we’ve established the organization, and we’ve got our foundation set to the point where we can look to expand,” Hart said.

The impact is greatest, however, if it is concentrated in a small area. By only directing their attention to the students at Ben Bella, S4Si ensures that they make at least a marginal difference for one or two people, Cronin said.

“Every effort I put into the group has a really tangible result in the lives of students in Zanzibar,” Hart said.”[The students in the program] have some of the most potential to impart change and help their country grow out of disparity. $10,000 really makes a lifelong difference.”

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~ by PJ on November 19, 2007.

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