Easy Columbus: Empower Campaign

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Students involved in the new Empower Campaign at Ohio State are trying to give African orphans a shot at something many take for granted -- the chance to go to school.

The group's executive director Andria Sherrow first started the campaign at Ohio University after visiting Uganda to complete her master's fieldwork on education in rural Africa. There, she met many children orphaned by AIDS and HIV who just wanted to go to school.

The Ugandan government pays for the children's primary school fees, which cover teacher salaries and minor school upkeep, but the children have to provide their own school supplies and uniforms before they're allowed to attend.

This is where Empower comes in. The group teams with women's cooperatives around Uganda to buy one-of-a-kind jewelry and crafts made from recycled materials, then sells them at a fair-trade price here in the United States. The profits are sent back to Uganda.

Not only do these efforts assist in sending children to school, they also help the Ugandan economy and provide these women with an income they wouldn't have otherwise had.

Empower also collects donations and holds fundraisers to raise money for building and reconstructing schools, ensuring children safe school buildings, clean bathroom facilities and healthy school lunch programs.

The group's OSU chapter started in the fall of 2008. Chapter president Kristen Ryan studied at OU for her first two years of college, and got involved with Empower after having class with Andria's husband, Hogan Sherrow.

"I knew he traveled to Uganda with Andria and asked how to get involved," said Ryan. "He pointed me in Andria's direction. I told her I wanted to get involved but was transferring to OSU, so she suggested I start my own chapter there."

With much help from the original OU chapter and from Ohio State, Ryan was able to get the new Empower chapter up and running immediately after transferring.

By the end of the organization's first year on OSU's campus, Empower had 15 members, and they've already doubled that number this year. The growing interest comes from the benefit concerts, jewelry sales and other events the group hosts each quarter.

In the works are another benefit concert later this year as well as a 5K run similar to the Run to Empower hosted on OU's campus earlier this fall.

And this year, Empower is launching a nationwide invitation for other student organizations to join the cause. So far, along with the OU and OSU chapters, there are Empower groups at Miami University and the University of Dayton.

Evan Tackett is a senior journalism major at Otterbein College.

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Web: empowercampaign.org