A group of eight West Chester University students are currently conducting the Ashraya Initiative, a service learning project that caters to housing street children internationally. This semester, these students are working towards becoming an official student group on campus, one of many goals in this project. Currently, they are working with Professor Douglass McConatha’s introduction to sociology class, in a valiant effort to fundraise, raise awareness and visit with various universities to inform them about this initiative, as well as raise donations.
For those reading who are not familiar with the Ashraya Initative for Children, AIC, it is a good cause whose members are dedicated to bettering the lives of children in need.
Ashraya is a Hindi word meaning “hope,” “trust,” “shelter” and “protection.” The initiative was originally conceived in 2004 by seven college students from different parts of the world. Since 2004, AIC has successfully expanded and now includes six branches located in the United States, Canada, Japan, United Kingdom, Austria and India.
The WCU student members include Erin McShea, Stephanie McDuffy, Stephanie Behan, Tina Johnson, Sara Gothelf, Thad Toole, Nemadia Knuckles and Amy Meachum. After working in groups last semester in McConatha’s class, they wanted to continue their work this semester.
“We’re all invested in this project, because it does so much for children in need,” McShea said. “It’s rare that you find a chance to take a class like this, where your time and effort really pays off and puts something positive out into the world. It’s great to feel like our hard work is really worth it and is helping someone else who doesn’t have the same luxuries we do.”
Last semester, the group raised about $ 1,000 and collected boxes of clothing and toys that were sent to India. The social problems class raised money through fundraisers such as bake sales and raffles held in the Sykes Student Union building. Donation boxes were located in the dorms, where the reception was overwhelming and resulted in mounting piles of clothing, books and toys alike.
They also received donations from businesses, such as gift cards to use for the raffle. Additionally, a QVC toy supplier, TO Epps, donated toys and books. Personal donations were also generously provided.
The student group began to verbally advertise their efforts, in hopes that other people would follow suit.
“We began to spread awareness first and foremost by word of mouth, but we also made up an informational brochure that we handed out to businesses as well as students during fundraisers,” McShea said.
Internet accounts were also created on Facebook and MySpace that offer information regarding the project and events they have planned. There is a YouTube video that details and describes the project and includes pictures and video clips of the projects, including an outreach project/clinic that they just opened in the fall. All of these combined efforts are aimed at the larger long-range goal of finding a larger residence to take in more children.
Fellow WCU students will hopefully gain knowledge of this program and take the opportunity to help make a difference and assist others.
“Contributing to the project is a real chance to help others by doing simple things like volunteering time or donating money,” McShea said. “This is also an opportunity for WCU students to gain some practical experience through service learning that can assist them in learning skills that can translate into employment opportunities.”
If you are interested in donating, volunteering or helping, contact McShea at AICWCU@yahoo.com. You can also mail a donation to PO Box 2450 W.C.U, West Chester, PA 19383. All checks can be made payable to AICWCU.
For more information, the student group’s YouTube video is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNBeZHFoqQ0. They can also be found on Facebook under the name Ashraya at West Chester.
Kerry Barth is a student at West Chester University majoring in professional studies with minors in journalism and health sciences. She can be reached at KB358328@wcupa.edu.