KINGSTON, R.I. – March 5, 2015 – Luckson Omoaregba lived in Nigeria until he was 9 years old, but even now as a University of Rhode Island senior he remembers children in his native country suffering from malnutrition.
That’s why he didn’t hesitate to donate $5 to the #MakeYourGreenCount Plumpy’Nut Challenge, a social media campaign launched March 2 by four fellow URI students to raise money for Edesia, a Providence nonprofit that makes a protein- and vitamin-packed peanut butter paste distributed to children throughout the world.
“I was born in Nigeria, and I understand the plight of children suffering from malnutrition,” said Omoaregba, a senior communication studies major who lives in Pawtucket. “I have seen poverty and starvation.”
Some 220 million children suffer from malnutrition worldwide, a condition that is unacceptable to the students leading the campaign, including David St. Amant ’16 of Warwick.
“I’m so excited to be part of this project,” says St. Amant. “It’s a local campaign with a powerful global impact.”
St. Peter Tri-Parish School in Warwick has also joined, raising $405, which exceeds its goal. The school’s student council alone raised $200.
The other students involved are: Kylie Rice ’15, of Bridgewater, N.J.; Kimberly DeLande ’15 of East Providence and Sergio Suhett ’15 of North Kingstown. URI’s Big Thinkers student group also played a major role in building excitement for the event.
The quartet could feel a buzz in the crowded lobby of the Memorial Union as students made their donations at a table festooned in green and Irish items like sparkly paper shamrocks and green strands of beads. They posed for photos with URI mascot Rhody, who occasionally donned a green bow tie and bowler.
By the end, students were beaming as they announced that hundreds of dollars had been raised. The project has already gained support beyond URI, including a recent Huffington Post article, which was re-tweeted by the United Nations World Food Programme.
URI President David M. Dooley stopped by to encourage the students in their efforts.
“This project epitomizes what URI’s academic plan and Transformational Goals are all about,” Dooley said. “It’s all about student leadership, and an effort to address an important global issue. And they are developing and using a tremendous range of skills in the process. The University is very proud of Kylie, David, Kimberly and Sergio.”
The students started working on the initiative last fall with Kate O’Malley, a South Kingstown resident and an editor in URI’s Publications and Creative Services department, and with Regina Bell, a public relations lecturer in the Harrington School of Communication and Media. O’Malley is a founder of Irish Americans for Famine Relief, a campaign started in 2011 to honor the legacy of the Great Irish Famine.
O’Malley, Bell and the students are working closely with Edesia to develop a campaign urging people to get “their green on” and donate by St. Patrick’s Day. They have challenged people to donate $5 and challenge 10 others to do the same, for a total of $55, the cost of a life-saving, seven-week treatment of Plumpy’Nut. The goal is to raise $10,000.
St. Amant said the campaign has been a defining URI experience for him. “The hands-on experience has exceeded anything I’ve done at URI,” he said. “I’ve gotten so much out of it.”
DeLande, a senior public relations and journalism major, has completed seven internships since her sophomore year. She said none compare to the Edesia project.
“This is the most meaningful experience I’ve had so far,” said DeLande, whose mother suffered from malnutrition when she was a toddler in Jamaica. “We are working with Edesia, a wonderful nonprofit. As Rhode Islanders, we have an opportunity to do something on a global scale. We have the potential to do so much.”
It was Rice who got the ball rolling on the independent study project in the fall working with Bell and O’Malley.
“We have come a long way since last semester,” said Rice. She has firsthand experience with hunger, volunteering at an orphanage in Ghana years ago. “The children there would get a slice of bread or maybe some porridge and it was not very nutritious. But Plumpy’Nut is so amazing it has all of these vitamins, proteins and minerals.”
Suhett, originally from Brazil, said there is also malnutrition in his native country.
“This became a very personal campaign for our group,” he said. “We are very excited about our start, but we want to go beyond our $10,000 goal. So we encourage everyone to #MakeYourGreenCount.”
J.P. Underhill, a URI junior from Wakefield, took the challenge and is asking his club, URI Rotaract, a college version of Rotary International, to do the same.
“Helping malnourished kids is so important,” he said. “The more money raised, the more kids we can save.”
To make a donation or to learn more about the event, please go to the following links:
Pictured above: University of Rhode Island students, left to right: Kimberly DeLande ’15 of East Providence, Sergio Suhett ’15 of North Kingstown, David St. Amant ’16 of Warwick, and Kylie Rice ’15 of Bridgewater, N.J.
Photo by Nora Lewis, University of Rhode Island.