February 08, 2010
Inspired by their University’s focus on improving the
world through knowledge and action, an eager group of St. John’s
students raised the funds needed to provide the perfect gift for
needy families in a remote Guatemalan village — pigs.
About 45 of them, to be exact. That’s how many pigs the villagers
will be able to purchase this summer with the $2,500 in funds
collected campus-wide by Students for Global Justice, one of the
many St. John’s clubs that put the University’s mission into
dynamic action by fighting poverty and injustice around the
The students chose this unique way to serve after a visiting
lecture by Rev. Joseph J. Kerrigan, a pastor with the Catholic
Relief Services’ “solidarity team” in New Jersey. Fr. Kerrigan
spoke about his regular service visits to a rural Guatemalan
village where pigs are vital for food and trade
Hoping to have a direct impact on the villagers’ personal and
economic well-being, the students launched a fund drive they dubbed
“Pig Out for Poverty.” They spread out across campus, collecting
money from fellow students, professors and administrators in
hand-made “piggy banks” — plastic bottles painted to look like the
The campaign was one of several student-run efforts this year to
fight hunger and poverty at home and abroad. Fr. Kerrigan will
bring St. John’s gift to the villagers this summer.
Action with Impact: A Core St.
“It’s a true St. John’s approach to global poverty,” said Widian
Nicola, who coordinates social justice efforts in Campus Ministry.
This was the second year that Ms. Nicola helped students organize
“While other colleges may raise awareness about hunger and
homelessness,” she said, “we’re combining that goal with a core St.
John’s value — the Vincentian ideal of impacting the system through
Students also are engaging another St. John’s value: providing
those in need with the tools to help themselves. Villagers can keep
the pigs as food or use them as livestock to breed and sell. “It’s
a two-fold approach,” said Ms. Nicola. “On the one hand, we’re
providing direct nourishment. On the other, we’re helping people
develop a path out of poverty that will have a sustainable impact
on their lives.”
This concept, Ms. Nicola observed, is related to “micro-lending,” a
practice with which St. John’s is deeply involved. A new global
movement to help businesses in poor regions, micro-lending provides
small loans to entrepreneurs who lack access to traditional credit.
St. John’s supports this movement in two ways — through academics
and through its own institutional commitment.
The Peter J. Tobin College of Business at St. John’s recently
created a student-managed Global Micro-loan Program. Serving as
analysts and managers, students work with Vincentian missions
around the world to channel small loans to those in need.
In addition, St. John’s established a partnership with Grameen
America. Based in Flushing, Queens, it is a division of Grameen
Bank, which pioneered microfinance programs in developing countries
around the world. Launching the partnership, Grameen’s founder,
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus, visited the Queens
campus last April.
Gaining Experience and
Encouraged by their success, the students are planning a similar
fund-raising drive this spring for Haitian relief. Instead of
“piggy banks,” they will collect funds cardboard “rice
These efforts allow St. John’s students to have a direct impact on
poverty. Yet their desire to address hunger and injustice was
evident in other events as well.
For example, “A Night in Solidarity with the Homeless” — sponsored
by Campus Ministry, Students for Life and Habitat for Humanity —
helped students to understand what it is like to sleep without a
roof over their heads. After a talk in St. Thomas More Church by
Matthew Works, an advocate for the homeless, students strengthened
their empathy for those in need by sleeping outside on the
University’s Great Lawn.
Students learned a stark lesson about inequality through a special
“Hunger Banquet.” When 200 participants arrived for a “meal” at the
University Center, they were randomly assigned to one of three
“socio-economic” groups — privileged, mid-range or poor. The
“privileged” enjoyed full meals at a well-set table, while those in
the mid-range sat at lone chairs for soup and bread. Students in
the “poor” group sat on the floor for bowls of porridge or
rice. Holding events like these is only one of
the many ways that St. John’s students make a difference. During
summer and winter breaks, new students can enroll in the Freshman
Passport Program, featuring two weeks of study and service
activities at St. John’s campus in Rome, Italy, or Paris,
Students also volunteer as part of Discover New York, a required
freshman course using the city as a “living textbook.”
Campus Ministry and Student Life are among many St. John’s
departments and clubs sponsoring service activities. These range
from off-campus midnight runs, in which students distribute food
and clothes, to service “plunges” in the U.S. and overseas.
To strengthen this experience, St. John’s created its new
Vincentian Institute for Social Action (VISA), supporting
University programs that address global poverty through teaching,
research and service.
“It’s all part of the Vincentian Mission,” said Laura Muñoz, a
20-year-old junior who took part in the fundraising effort. “When
you combine academics and service, you feel better qualified to
have a positive impact in your profession, your community and your