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Humanitarian Projects Earn Students Ticket to Clinton Conference on Campus

Ioana Patringenaru | March 28, 2011

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Some want to help poor children in India and work with victims of leprosy. Others plan to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for low-income families in San Diego County. They are some of the 200 UC San Diego students selected to attend the Clinton Global Initiative University conference this weekend on campus.

The three-day event will bring former President Bill Clinton to UCSD, as well as several celebrities who also are activists, including actor Sean Penn and actress Mandy Moore, and elected officials, including California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

About half a dozen UCSD students interviewed last week said they were excited to hear Clinton speak. They also said they looked forward to connecting and networking with like-minded students. In all, 1,000 students from as far away as Uganda, Pakistan and Haiti will attend the conference, which is not open to the public. Students selected to take part in the event had to come up with a service project and show how they planned to execute it.

“It’s a great experience for our students,” said Gary Ratcliff, assistant vice chancellor for Student Life.

Tuhina Srivastava, a UCSD sophomore, is part of a team of students selected to attend the Clinton Global Initiative University conference. Her group plans a service project in India.

Celebrities and community service
Friday, students will attend a networking session that will include remarks by Moore, an actress who most recently voiced Rapunzel in Disney’s “Tangled,” and by UCSD Associated Students President Wafa Ben Hassine. Students also will attend a panel discussion featuring President Clinton, with opening remarks by Chancellor Marye Anne Fox.

Tickets to Friday night's panel discussion are sold out, but the event will be webcast live at

Saturday will include a full schedule of panel discussions focused on education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights and public health. Attendees also will get the opportunity to take part in small-group sessions with high-profile activists, including environmentalist Van Jones and Marie Tillman, widow of former NFL player turned Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan.

Sunday, more than 800 conference participants, including President Clinton, will head to the San Diego Food Bank for a large-scale community service project. Volunteers will distribute food to low-income families and military families; package food for seniors; paint a mural; and work on landscaping around the food bank, among other efforts.

“We’re rolling up our sleeves,” said Emily Marx, who heads UCSD’s Center for Student Involvement and is coordinating the community service effort. “This is going to be a great project.”

Melissa Etehad, a sophomore at Eleanor Roosevelt College, said she is really looking forward to meeting the people who work at the food bank. The political sciences major attended the Clinton Global Initiative University conference last year in Miami. The experience inspired her to hold a peace summit in Amman, Jordan, to teach refugee youth conflict resolution skills. Etehad is seeking funds to finance her project. Meanwhile, she hopes she can get an autograph from Sean Penn.

Service abroad

Members of Project RISHI, a UCSD group that will attend CGIU, pose during a trip to India.

Tuhina Srivastava, Mugdha Golwalkar, Nikhil Nadkarni and  Aravindh Dorai—all UCSD undergraduates—also have been conducting fundraisers and seeking corporate sponsorships for the project they created for the conference. They plan to educate Indian youth in rural areas about health and hygiene.

Their project was inspired by a service trip to their native country, India. They volunteered in hospitals and worked at a lepers’ colony in the Indian region of Maharashtra. They got the idea for the project while attending a health care seminar for 200 children in kindergarten through eighth-grade during their trip.

Project RISHI would organize health camps, which would target children in fifth- through 12th-grade and would cover hygiene and first aid. At the end of each session, children would receive goody bags with mouthwash, Band Aid bandages and a pamphlet with the food pyramid. Srivastava and Golwalkar said they’re motivated by their interest in medicine. Both are pre-med.

“I want to be a doctor and this fits in perfectly,” Srivastava said.

Service at home

From left: Tony Chen, Geoff Weiner, Katherine Lee and Matthew Cappiello. The four UCSD School of Medicine students will attend CGIU.

Matthew Cappiello, Katherine Lee, Geoff Weiner and Tony Chen, all students at the School of Medicine, want to provide healthier foods for underserved populations in some of San Diego County’s poorest neighborhoods.

They all volunteer at the campus’ Student-Run Free Clinic Project. The clinics provide free health care in downtown San Diego, Pacific Beach, National City and Lemon Grove. “It’s a very powerful safety net for individuals that have limited access to health care,” said Capiello, a first-year medical school student.

Many of the patients coming to the free clinics have little access to supermarkets, which makes it difficult for them to buy healthy food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, he said. Research shows that poor nutrition is linked to an increased risk for chronic conditions, including diabetes and heart disease.

To help their patients gain access to healthy foods, the four UCSD students have founded the Fresh Foods for Health project. The team is working to find donors to finance the program. The goal is to partner with at least three farmers’ markets near UCSD’s student-run free clinics to provide discount coupons for the clinics’ patients. The partnerships would kick in by this fall. The hope is that more patients will cook healthy meals for themselves and their families, Capiello said.

“A lot of us see that San Diego has humongous health disparities,” he said. “We can make a difference.”

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