The Student Movement for Real Change (SMRC) was founded by Saul Garlick in Denver, Colorado in 2001 after a coffee-table conversation with friends about the state of education and the lack of student voices in the shaping of public policy and the national agenda. It has since grown to be a national organization endorsed by The Nelson Mandela Foundation with an esteemed Board of Advisors including Ambassadors, academics and business leaders.
In the spring of 2002, Garlick visited the Limpopo Province of South Africa during a family vacation where he saw African students learning outdoors. The lack of supplies, classrooms and resources struck him, and he pledged that through the Student Movement, young leaders in the United States would build three classrooms for the children. Returning to the United States, the goal was clear, and students began their work. Hosting car washes, bake sales, sending mailings and co-sponsoring events, the Student Movement raised the initial money – which was matched by a generous philanthropist in South Africa – to build the needed classrooms.
The first college chapter of the Student Movement was founded in 2002 at Johns Hopkins University. Through student initiative, the Hopkins chapter fundraised an impressive $10,000. Working closely with partner organizations – particularly the Buffelshoek Trust in South Africa – has made it possible to connect students in the United States with projects abroad. It was time for more students to advocate for African education, and learn firsthand about the plight of their peers abroad. In 2003, the Student Movement led a trip for five Johns Hopkins students to visit South Africa, and conclude their trip at Mashlati. After the tour of the classrooms that SMRC had built, Garlick sat down with a teacher and ask her what her wildest dream for her classroom was. “Wildest dream?” she asked with a contagious. “Anything, yes, anything,” he had said. She looked at him, confounded, and replied, “If it could be anything, I would want furniture.” Immediately Garlick replied: “We’ll get that for you.”
Upon their return, these students expanded the Student Movement across the United States by inviting young leaders to establish chapters at their colleges. In 2003, Garlick developed a leadership operations package that was distributed to students nationally and Student Movement chapters were soon founded in California, Washington, D.C. and Colorado.
In November 2003 Nelson Mandela spoke to the Johns Hopkins campus via satellite teleconference. During his remarks he stated: “My faith in the people of the United States to act in the interest of a better life for all the people in the world is vindicated by people like yourself in the Student Movement.”
The organizational model of the Student Movement engages students on pressing global issues that are not represented in the mainstream media. Today, the Student Movement has nearly two dozen college campuses that are actively engaged in raising awareness and funds for issues in “neglected regions of the world.” Students fundraise for schools in the Limpopo province in rural South Africa, for a water-pipeline in rural Kenya, and also coordinate the Joining Hands Pen-Pal project. The Student Movement has been recognized in several campus newspapers and most recently in the Washington Post for its work on student leadership and international development.
More recently, during a long-distance telephone conversation this past summer with Lily Muldoon, SMRC’s Project Director for the Kenya Water Project. She had called him, saying, “The water catchments we wanted to use here will not work. We need to build a proper pipeline. However, it isn’t going to cost $15,000; it will cost $600,000.” That was far more money than the Student Movement had ever raised or pledged. Garlick told her the Student Movement was up to the task and would meet the pledge. Her voice relaxed and we began to strategize. From that plan, students at more than a dozen campuses nationwide have raised $25,000 in just two months, and of equal importance, they now have an awareness of the water shortage in Kenya.
Although the work of the Student Movement is far from complete, it is well underway. Students are driving development, leading on issues that rarely attract international attention, and are becoming the informed leaders that will be necessary for international relations to become more peaceful. Students in SMRC find that their priorities shift as they become aware of genocide, civil war, disease, water sanitation, hunger, lack of education and other issues that so badly affect the developing world. For these students, their work has just begun.
The Student Movement for Real Change’s mission is to be a leadership development organization that provides students in the United States a vehicle to advocate for positive change in neglected regions of the world. We empower students to become leaders, giving them opportunities to improve health and education in developing communities worldwide.