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UConn Empower: philanthropy through student-run initiatives

By Kathleen McWilliams
On February 18, 2013

  • UConn Empower is one of the few philanthropic organizations at UConn that provides its services entirely through student-run initiatives. Image courtesy of

The University of Connecticut offers students many exciting philanthropic opportunities, such as HuskyThon and Community Outreach, but how many of these philanthropic organizations are student run initiatives that aim to generate change and bring participating students right into the heart of that change? The answer is not many.
UConn Empower, however, is one organization that is taking student's ideas and transforming them into real change in the world. Founded last year by Sumia Hussain and Lior Trestman, the organization strives to help public health and educational organizations in South Asia and Africa accomplish their goals and make positive changes in these communities. Even the name of group describes its goals.
"That's all we want to do, whether it's through education, public health or micro finance," said Sumia Hussain.
When asked about how Hussain and Trestman came up with the idea of "UConn Empower," Hussain explained. "It was having the idea to make a difference and continue a project and an effort in a certain place. We wanted to help people who don't have the resources to help themselves."
Instead of joining a previously established philanthropic organization, Trestman and Hussain decided to build their own group that would raise money and work with an organization within a country in need. As Hussain said, "We look for local organizations that are doing a great job and we help them, give them a little boost."
This year, the group chose to focus its efforts on a community in Cameroon, and is working with an organization called "A Better World Cameroon." Sixteen Empower members will be travelling to Cameroon between May 16 and June 1 this summer to implement the projects the group has devised since September. The first project Empower will implement a learning center in a village in Cameroon. With the surge in online education occurring not only in the United States, but around the world, the group will be installing 15 netbooks and an online education system, thereby giving these students a first rate education that they would not have had access to before.
"Access to education is the best way to break the cycle of poverty," Trestman said. In addition to bringing top-notch education materials to Cameroon, Empower is also working on a public health project focusing on health habits, such as nutrition and hand washing, to educate the children on the best healthy habits. What sets these projects apart from other initiatives is the fact that the projects were the brainchildren of not only Hussain, Trestman and their executive board, but of every single member of the club.
"It's a club for the people, by the people," said Trestman.
With the upcoming trip to Cameroon, Empower has been focused on fund-raising all year to be able to purchase the supplies to bring to Cameroon. All of the members who are attending the trip pay their own way, so that 100 percent of the fund-raising done by Empower will go directly to the community in Cameroon. Past events included a Super Smash Bros. tournament, which generated nearly $600 and collaboration with UConn Surya's event Dancer's for a Difference, which raised roughly $1800 for UConn Empower's initiative. In the upcoming semester Empower is hosting several events, including an underwear mile during Spring Weekend, another Super Smash Bros. tournament and collaboration with Horse Lincoln Improv Group to host a murder mystery dinner party. Empower is also competing in the Ignite Tournament, a tournament that focuses on raising money and the organization with the most donors wins a donation from Ignite. 

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