Student-organized NGO opens Whitman chapter

by Katie Collier

Seniors Megan McConville and Thomas Miller have recently presented an impressive blueprint for a Whitman chapter of Student Movement for Real Change (SMRC), a student-led NGO meant to empower students to affect change in remote, neglected areas of the world. United under a common interest in water issues, the two students will spearhead a project to bring clean, safe water to 10 schools and the surrounding rural community in Kayafungo, Kenya.

Miller described SMRC as a way to “help people at Whitman understand how we can have an impact on remote areas through grassroots work, research and fundraising at home.” McConville expressed a desire to increase general campus awareness, and particularly to groom a pool of dedicated club members to a more acute understanding of research and fundraising methods in order to carry this chapter into the future. “Maybe a couple years down the road Whitman will be choosing its own project to promote through SMRC,” she said.

SMRC was founded four years ago in Colorado by then-college student Saul Garlick, a personal acquaintance of McConville. Having gained its status as a 501(c)(3) non-profit, SMRC has already seen success in the construction of the Ashlati Primary School in the Limpopo Province of South Africa.

Garlick’s initial fundraising efforts and success were contagious, and chapters of SMRA have spread to eight colleges and universities nationwide, where hundreds of impassioned students have joined the efforts to take action on issues all over the world. Schools have raised up to $10,000 in a year to help support their projects.

The Kenya Water Project also has a hands-on portion that will be led by the SIT Kenya study abroad program. Students will be able to do first hand research and see the project through in Kenya.

A number of Whitman students have participated in SIT Kenya in the past and McConville hopes to get the Whitman Study Abroad office involved in promoting the program. Senior Caitlin Chapman, who returned from Kenya last December, endorsed the idea as “a positive way to be involved in issues we were previously only able to observe on SIT.”

The Water Project has the potential to appeal to both hard science and humanities students. McConville worked on the environmental chemistry end of a water project in Ecuador last spring, while Miller has delved into development politics at Whitman and while abroad in South Africa last fall.

Miller also praised the organization for its ability to bring students together between campuses. “There are only 1400 students on a campus like Whitman, and only so many people in a small town like Walla Walla, but together with other campuses and communities we have the potential to make a huge impact.”

Miller described tentative plans to implement an already existing $10 bracelet campaign, whereby students who “can’t really afford much more, but want to be involved” can purchase a SMRC bracelet in sponsorship of the Water Project. The club will organize a few larger fundraising events both on and off campus this year, and will meet regularly to learn more about the situation. Details about the first meeting will be advertised on campus soon.

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