Grants enable students to carry out vision for social change

Global projects to be highlighted at Oct. 12 showcase

WUSTL social work student David Githinji emigrated from Kenya with his wife and two sons in January 2010, in the midst of a tough economy. He worked long hours and multiple jobs to put food on the table and found it challenging to provide guidance and emotional support to his children.

Githinji realized these issues were affecting the larger Kenyan immigrant population in St. Louis, which numbers about 6,000 people. He felt the need to intervene and, four months later, developed Dollar A Day, a mentorship and asset-building program for 50 Kenyan high school students in St. Louis. The primarily Kenyan-immigrant Christ Covenant Church in Florissant, Mo., hosts the program.

Last summer, thanks to a $5,000 Social Change Grant from the Gephardt Institute for Public Service, he was able to expand the program and establish a system for ongoing monitoring of the youths’ academic performance during the school year.

Social Change Grants are administered through WUSTL’s Community Service Office. The grants provide $5,000-$6,000 in funding and are awarded to students who propose innovative summer project ideas that are in the spirit of social entrepreneurship.

Grant projects span all academic areas, social issues and parts of the globe. The selection committee is comprised of those within the WUSTL and nonprofit communities.

“It’s really incredible to watch these 19- and 20-year-old students and share in their vision for changing the world,” says Shiloh Venable, coordinator for community service in the WUSTL Community Service Office.

On Wednesday, Oct. 12, the Social Change Grant showcase will highlight the work of the 2011 recipients. The event is set for 4 p.m. in Room 233 of Danforth University Center. Projects range from water purification in a Ugandan village to neighborhood-based sex-trafficking prevention in Vietnam.

The showcase also is an opportunity to learn more about applying for the annual grants, which are available to undergraduates and graduate/professional students in all schools. The intent-to-apply deadline for the next set of grants is Jan. 23, 2012. Workshops in proposal writing and application will be offered prior to the proposal deadline Feb. 10, 2012.

The goal of Githinji’s Dollar A Day program is to give Kenyan youth the information they need so they can navigate the complex U.S. environment and reach their full potential. The youth meet every Sunday afternoon and listen to speakers from within the Kenyan immigrant community talk about career choice, courtship, entrepreneurship, time management, financial discipline and character development.

The students are encouraged to save a minimum of one dollar a day and, so far, have saved close to $25,000 in a joint group bank account.

“By equipping youth with this knowledge, they will be catalysts of change and mentor their young siblings who are also growing up under these challenges and this will have a multiplier effect,” Githinji says.

Githinji says he was able to further realize his goals through the generous Cantor Social Change Grant and oversight from faculty sponsor Jack Kirkland, associate professor at the Brown School.

The youth underwent an eight-week intensive summer leadership training experience that would not have been possible during the school year and embarked on a number of educational field trips. Academic goals also were established for the students, such as good attendance, improved grades, completion of high school and enrollment in an accredited, undergraduate college program. Most of the students are enrolled in the Hazelwood School District.

Stern Social Change Grant recipient Mac Chamberlin, a junior engineering student from St. Louis, traveled to Uganda. He and several other WUSTL students helped provide clean water for the Namayumba Secondary School.

The leader of the school, Chamberlin says, takes in “vulnerable children” and gives them a primary and secondary education. Most students live at the school. By the time Chamberlin left, most students were filling the storage tanks, running the chlorination system and filling their water bottles, all on their own.

While Chamberlin was there, he showered outside using a bucket and helped negotiate the purchase of a cow for the school.

“My overall takeaway from the project was that the world is a big place, much bigger than it can seem inside of the bubble of Wash. U.,” Chamberlin says. “It’s easy to isolate yourself in a small part of the world and pretend like your part is really all there is, or that matters.

“It was great to be able to be away in a new part of the world for a while. I think it was an eye-opening experience,” he says.

Chamberlin is focused now on helping to develop a sustainable form of income for the students so they can save for a college education. He and others are considering ideas such as a chicken coop, a farm or taxi business.

To learn more Social Change Grants, visit

The following 2011 Social Grant awardees will be featured at the showcase:

  • Mac Chamberlin, senior engineering student, Water Purification Initiative, Namayumba, Uganda
  • David Githinji, Brown School MSW student, Dollar A Day Initiative, St. Louis
  • Rebecca Gluckstein, Brown School MSW student, Malang Sustainability Theater, Kedungmonggo, Indonesia
  • Preethi Kembaiyan and Akhila Narla, seniors in Arts & Sciences, Female Economic Empowerment Initiative, Naigobya, Uganda
  • Yamini Krishnamurthy and Sammita Satyanarayan,seniors in Arts & Sciences, Family Planning and HIV/AIDS Education Outreach, Hyderabad, India
  • Mark Pham, Brown School MSW student, Em Chi Initiative-Neighborhood-based Sex Trafficking Prevention Project, Vietnam