Four University of Nebraska students will get the chance to share their visions for a better world at this year's Clinton Global Initiative University.
CGIU is an offshoot of the Clinton Global Initiative, which was formed in 2005 by former President Bill Clinton to bring together world leaders to create and implement solutions to world problems.
It focuses on the work of university and college students, who submit commitments to action on issues such as health care, hunger and literacy.
This year's conference will be Friday through Sunday at Washington University in St. Louis.
Three students who will attend from the University of Nebraska at Omaha share the dream of opening a public library in their native country of Cameroon.
Sister Rosemary Arrah, a graduate student studying special education at UNO, and two fellow students were selected for the conference to work toward a goal that hits close to home.
Arrah, Benadette Ngamelue, a biotechnology major, and Larisa Akah, a general science major, submitted a proposal that laid out a $16,000 plan to create the first public library at St. Joseph Elementary School in Mamfe, Cameroon.
“Primary schools just don't have libraries,” Akah said. “This would be one of a kind.”
Arrah said she was struck by the availability of resources for students at UNO.
“The more resources available, the more successful students can be,” she said. “I couldn't remember reading a book in primary school because they weren't available.”
Ngamelue said students at her elementary school did not read unless they were assigned books for a literature class or to prepare for a high school entrance exam.
“Here you see people reading in the airport or in the doctor's office, but there you don't see people reading while waiting for anything,” Arrah said. “It just isn't a hobby.”
The group's goal is to make reading more accessible in Cameroon. So far, they have held a book drive that collected 6,000 books and shipped them to Cameroon.
The funding they could receive at CGIU is not for books, Ngamelue said, but for the library itself, including tables, chairs, bookshelves and other materials.
Regardless of whether the team receives funding at CGIU, they will have a fundraiser in an effort to travel to Cameroon and help however they can.
“It's not only funding we need,” Arrah said. “If someone can provide (airline) miles to fly us there, we will take the help we can.”
Casey Heier, 23, a senior biological systems engineering major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is also attending CGIU. He is the head of the World Energy Project, a nonprofit organization he started at UNL with five other students.
Heier traveled to Costa Rica last winter to study renewable energy and used that for his commitment to action for CGIU.
While abroad, Heier taught K-12 students about renewable energy and connected them to schools in Africa that didn't have electricity, he said.
“(Students) would fundraise to power a school, we would install the system and allow the schools to Skype and connect with each other,” Heier said.
More than $400,000 in funding will be awarded to select conference attendees. Because students have the opportunity to share their ideas with so many people, networking is the main way for attendees to get funding.
A few attendees may also be selected to go to the larger Clinton Global Initiative conference, where they might get funding for their projects, said Dan Shipp, UNO Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs.
“A big part of the CGIU experience is to get students to develop business plans or nonprofit programs that will allow them to be self-sustaining,” Shipp said.
If Heier's commitment to action receives any funding, it will go toward a solar panel system to power a school.
“With the World Energy Project, we have the experience and technical knowledge to install that system ourselves,” he said.
More than 1,000 students will be in attendance this weekend to hear from Clinton, political satirist and comedian Stephen Colbert and world leaders, as well as meet other students.
“I'm most excited to meet other students that want to solve all of these global problems,” Heier said. “Being around people who are actively trying to do something inspires me.”
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