Students start club to help impoverished nations

After a study abroad trip to the Dominican Republic last summer, public health graduate student Nathan Praschan knew what he had to do.

When the owner of a nonprofit organization in the village of La Piedra approached him asking him to help raise $2,000 to build shelters for impoverished residents, Praschan was ready to help. When he returned to MSU in the fall, the idea for a group dedicated to helping communities overseas began to form in Praschan’s head.

“I really felt a need there,” he said. “I changed quite a bit in my life as a result of the trip. I think that’s probably why I’m so passionate about it.”

On Thursday evening, the first meeting of the new group Spartans for the International Poor, or SIP, was held in Holmes Hall, as about 10 members discussed their goals to contribute to impoverished nations and encourage more students to become involved.

Praschan said the money the club raises this year will be donated to various nonprofit organizations in the Dominican Republic, but that’s not the only country they plan to impact.

“My idea for SIP is that every year, we will determine as a group the area that we’d like to affect,” he said. “I didn’t want to just impact the Dominican Republic because that may be where I’m particularly passionate about, but I know other people have areas they feel strongly about, too.”

During the meeting, Reza Nassiri, director of the Institute of International Health and professor of clinical pharmacology, said he was speechless at the leadership of Praschan and other students who attended the study abroad trip.

“There are a number of countries that need our help, and what better way to receive it than from students because they are the future leaders,” he said. “I hope the organization grows across campus.”

Nassiri said he has traveled to more than 100 countries, and many know about MSU’s health development programs. Because the world is connected in so many ways, Nassiri said there is a need to help overseas.

“Their pain is our pain because we are a global society,” he said.

Physiology junior Justin Drobish said after also attending the study abroad trip to the Dominican Republic, he shared Praschan’s enthusiasm to create SIP.

“The village we went to was the poorest place I’ve ever been in my entire life,” he said. “It was a moving experience to see people who had so little.”

He recalled leaving La Piedra and ending the trip at an extravagant resort and was disturbed by the discrepancy between the way the people in the village lived and the way others lived in the lavish hotel.

“I thought we could do something,” he said. “We’re not just donating money to a place we’ve never heard of, but its a place we’ve been. We know the people who work there, and we’ve met the doctors.”

Praschan said groups such as SIP are important because sometimes students become absorbed by work, classes and their social lives, and become stuck in their own bubble, unaware of what is happening from continent to continent.

“In addition to raising money for communities, I also want to raise awareness and let people know there’s a world outside of MSU, and most of it is struggling,” he said.

For Drobish, encouraging students to become passionate about impoverished communities such as those found in the Dominican Republic might be difficult, but he said he’s hoping for the best.

“For me, it was easy because we went to the place,” he said. “I’m afraid that people who didn’t go on the trip will (struggle with) having the same enthusiasm as us. I hope we can convey our passion to the rest of the group.”

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