UB student helps fight poverty in Ghana
College students usually get part-time jobs for the paycheck at the end of the week. Lia DiNunzio, a sophomore international relations major, is an exception. She has a job and doesn't get paid a cent.
She's OK with that.
The 19-year-old is the regional events coordinator of The Senase Project (TSP) - a non-profit organization run by college students nationwide that works to fight poverty in Ghana, Africa through community development. Though she hasn't been to Ghana yet, she fundraises and coordinates events in the local community to raise money for its underprivileged children.
"I absolutely love doing what I believe in, and the feeling of accomplishment I receive from seeing the progress in Ghana cannot be compared to anything else," DiNunzio said. "Knowing that everyone in the Senase Project worked together to achieve our goal is the best feeling in the world."
TSP was created two years ago when seven students visited Ghana while studying abroad in a program called Semester at Sea. As they traveled through the country, they visited a village called Akatim and noticed the local children studying in small shacks.
That day, TSP was born.
Since then, TSP has built the Akatim Village School, which houses over 120 students at elementary school level. The project is currently working to construct a basic medical clinic for the village to help fight malaria and infant deaths during childbirth - two major problems that face the people of Ghana.
"The best part about everything we do in Ghana is that we're not just handing people a free pass," said Chris Toone, a senior athletic training major at Ithaca College and chief executive officer and co-founder of TSP."Instead, we take on projects that help people to empower themselves to live a better life. We're not molding people's lives; rather, [we're] giving them the opportunity they deserve to have a say in the course of how they live."
Last summer, DiNunzio heard about TSP from a friend and instantly knew she needed to be a part of it. DiNunzio currently serves as the regional event coordinator and is responsible for planning and organizing events that help fund the project. The money then goes to help build the school and medical center and help pay for school supplies, clothes and other materials for the children in the village. She is also trying to get UB involved.
Currently, DiNunzio is planning a fundraising party on Dec. 21, which will showcase some UB musical talents like Quinton Brock, a student rapper. All proceeds will go toward TSP. She is also planning an upcoming concert with a local band, The Tins, scheduled to take place sometime in January.
In addition to throwing events, DiNunzio and her fellow TSP members go to churches and other local gathering centers to spread the word about TSP in hopes of receiving donations.
DiNunzio sells TSP bracelets at local college hangouts. The bracelets have the word "Ubuntu" inscribed in them, an African philosophy that means, "I am because we are." This message has become a slogan for TSP and explains its mission of improving the world as a community.
She is also working with graphic designers to create a new logo, T-shirts and other merchandise, which she hopes will help generate money for the project.
DiNunzio said TSP gives her real-life experience in international relations. She said working with people from Ghana will prepare her for her future in international relations. In addition to strengthening her career ambitions, she sees her role with TSP as an opportunity to contribute to the fight against poverty.
"I truly believe that community development is a crucial step toward eradicating poverty across the globe,"DiNunzio said.
DiNunzio attributes much of her passion to experiences during her time in high school at Buffalo Seminary. When she was 15 years old, she spent a semester in France as part of a study abroad program.
She's been exposed to many cultures, which sparked her interest in international affairs.
"Diversity at [Buffalo Seminary] is an avid part of the community, so I've been open to so many different cultures," DiNunzio said. "I have learned that giving back is something that I really like to do."
Prior to her involvement with TSP, DiNunzio spent two years volunteering for The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), a program that provides assistance to children and mothers in developing countries.
DiNunzio is also a member of Phi Alpha Delta, an international and professional law fraternity. She plans to join the pre-law program at UB soon and ultimately practice international law.
Toone is one of the seven students who first visited the Akatim Village. He is proud of the work DiNunzio puts into the project and praises her dedication to the cause.
"Lia's creativity, passion and professionalism have had a profound impact on The Senase Project as an organization," Toone said. "Everyone around her feeds off of her motivation and ability to succeed, including myself. She is truly an amazing person that I am lucky to work with."
Sophie Herrman, a junior human geography major at Buffalo State College and the national marketing director of TSP, agrees with Toone. Herrman introduced DiNunzio to the project.
"[DiNunzio] has given me, personally, hope for the project," Herrman said in an email. "She inspires me to push our team members to the best of their abilities, [and] she fights for [the children of Akatim] like they're her own, which is all we can ask from anyone."
Whether DiNunzio is selling TSP bracelets or collecting donations, she continues to dedicate a lot of her time to TSP. DiNunzio's efforts may not result in a paycheck, but for her, knowing her efforts are helping children in Akatim is payment enough.
DiNunzio plans to visit Ghana as soon as her schedule and personal finances allow her to. She looks forward to seeing in person the difference she is making.
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