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Leaders look beyond campus bubble

Madeline Buckley | Thursday, December 10, 2009

 Student government aims to look at the “small things and the big things,” student body president Grant Schmidt said of his administration so far this year. 

Schmidt and student body vice president Cynthia Weber have put in place some of the smaller things, like benches at Main Circle and mints in the dining halls.

But the duo is also looking to reach beyond the Notre Dame bubble.

This year, Schmidt and Weber launched the Global Water Initiative, a project where student government is raising money to build a well in an impoverished town in Africa to offer clean water to the residents. 

The Initiative was part of their campaign platform from the beginning, and Weber said she was told that students wouldn’t care about it. The role of student government is to address the needs of the students themselves. 

“If that complaint was present from students, typically they would say that’s not what student government should be doing,” Schmidt said. “We have the small things and the big things. We have two different spectrums and two different focuses and that’s how it should be in our opinion.”

In the past, Weber said student government has raised money for smaller and more short-term events and issues, but this is the first time student government has undertaken a yearlong project focused on one social problem. 

“I was interested in doing something kind of monumental for student government,” she said. “The idea was to find a non-controversial issue and provide consistent education and fundraising on that same issue all year.”

And for Weber, the answer was simple: Water. 

“Communities have unclean drinking water and people are getting sick,” Weber said. “The issue is cornerstone to so many other social problems.”

Student government is working with The Water Project, a non-profit organization that builds wells in poor areas of Africa and India where people commonly die of waterborne diseases. The wells offer a clean source of water and cost about $5,000 to build.

Schmidt and Weber said they are able to balance dealing with campus-related issues and the Global Water Initiative by delegating the work. Junior Rachel Roseberry and sophomore Justin Pham are co-directors of the project. 

“We really wanted to find a long-range social issue for student government to focus on,” Roseberry said. “A yearlong project is more unique.”

The goal of the project is to raise at least $5,000 this year to build one well, most likely in a village in western Kenya, Roseberry said. 

So far, student government has sold T-shirts to raise money and awareness and has encouraged dorms to hold events to raise money. Howard Hall’s Totter for Water event earlier this year raised funds for the project.

The Office of Sustainability also pledged to donate the proceeds from the dorm energy competition, which ran through the month of November. 

Next semester, student government plans to put “wishing wells” in the dorms for students to donate spare change and release a benefit CD featuring campus musicians, Weber said.

“I was worried when campaigning that this would be one of those things that fell by the wayside, but the student response has been overwhelming,” Weber said. 

But Schmidt and Weber said people have asked why they are focusing on Africa when there is poverty in South Bend. 

“Notre Dame does play a big role in the community and we have been doing things in South Bend, but we wanted to do something bigger,” Schmidt said. 

Although student government primarily serves the student body of Notre Dame, Weber said the group is in a position to do more.

“We can really put on a united front and push one cause,” she said. “Honestly, we may not be able to give an apple to everybody but if we have one apple, we can still give it to somebody.”