Oswego Has Heart helping global areas in need

Clothing collectedResidents of SUNY Oswego’s Hart Hall and other members of the campus community are collecting clothing for displaced Iraqis and school supplies for Benin under the Oswego Has Heart program.

The project started after Haider Hamza, a former Iraqi journalist and Fulbright Scholar, visited campus to present the keynote for the 2008 Hart Hall Global Awareness Conference. His talk revealed a need to help displaced Iraqi refugees in Syria, said Becky Burch of SUNY Oswego’s psychology department, a Hart Hall faculty-in-residence.

“College students don’t necessarily have money, but many of them have stuff, so we looked for something students could donate,” Burch said.

Hart Hall launched a clothing drive that has collected more than 90 large garbage bags of clothing routed through Hamza to refugee camps. A large surge came at the end of spring when students, especially those from overseas, decided to donate clothing instead of packing it for home.

While the drive was strong for adult clothing, after Hamza noted a need for children’s clothing, Burch reached out to faculty members who may have unused kids’ apparel and received enough to fill several large garbage bags.

“The generosity of our students, faculty and staff for this drive has been amazing,” she said.

Supporting Benin

Oswego Has Heart found a second project when students who visited Benin through a study-abroad course talked of another need. The college has a partnership with Benin to help develop the African nation’s educational system.

In Benin, “you realize how much infrastructure there isn’t,” said Keith Davis of SUNY Oswego’s Office of International Education and Programs and another faculty-in-residence. “What we consider necessities they often have to do without. We saw kids on the street begging for food. We saw 60 students crowded into one class. They have school uniforms because otherwise some children are so poor they would come to school naked.”

Yet those in Benin have a real thirst for education, as even children whose families were unable to afford schooling “would be outside the window listening to teachers or copying things down they saw on the chalkboard,” Davis noted.

For children in Benin, Davis said, even one stick of chalk feels like a reward and is key to their education. He saw students working their cherished chalk down to the smallest nub. “Here you can find a box with 100 pieces of chalk in a dollar store,” and easily buy a small stockpile for Benin, while it’s almost impossible to find there, Burch said.

Students going over to Benin for this year’s study-abroad course will bring the ever-growing pile of supplies with them, she added.

Hart’s heart

Nina Monte, residence director of Hart Hall, said that she thinks the residence hall’s program that focuses on service and world awareness makes the mindset and mechanism for such projects possible. “Students here get an opportunity to learn about poverty and problems in places they may never have even heard of, and become passionate about causes, because of our program,” Monte said.

“Hart Hall is about raising awareness, and we’re really making a difference,” said Greg Parsons of the history department, Hart Hall’s faculty director. “The conference is really what brought this together and let everyone know about the need.”

During this year’s Hart Hall Global Awareness Conference, Nov. 6 and 7, residents and visitors will be encouraged to support either the clothing or school supplies drives via large bins placed in the Hart Hall lobby.

For more information, contact Burch at rebecca.burch@oswego.edu.

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PHOTO CAPTION: Global drive—SUNY Oswego students, faculty and staff have contributed some 90 large garbage bags of clothes for Iraqi refugees in Syria as well as school supplies for children in Benin through the Oswego Has Heart program. Shown going through some of the donated clothes are Hart Hall residents (from left) Becky Burch of the psychology department; Student Association President Chrissy Ballesteros; Greg Parsons of the history department, the faculty resident director; Nina Monte, director of Hart Hall; Rachel Jewell, a graduate resident mentor; and Keith Davis of International Education and Programs.

(Posted: Oct 15, 2009)