By Carole Mikita, Deseret News
Published: Thursday, March 10, 2011
SALT LAKE CITY — What do University of Utah students, cows and Cambodia have in common? They are linked through a project to help people rise out of poverty.
"We have some very dedicated students who have educated themselves on microcredit, its potential, the impact it can have on lives,” said economics professor Wade Roberts.
Members of his international economics class want to take an idea — microcredit — halfway around the world. They have only seen video or pictures of the poverty in Cambodia but some of the students at the U. and Westminster College will travel to see for themselves in June.
"You learn you don’t really know the world as well as you think you do," said engineering student Mauricio Caceres. "Once you learn what these people live through, then you learn, you, yourself, didn't know much about the world itself. You can't get your head wrapped around that these things exist, but they do.”
The students first designed manuals for five countries, then chose a country where they believe they can make a difference.
The students hope to raise $10,000 to buy cows. They chose Cambodia because the money will buy more there. One dollar, they say, is worth 7,000 times more there than it is here.
“If we value life equally, amongst all the different demographics of the world, we really need to consider where our dollar is most effective," one student said.
Each cow costs $250, which includes shots, feed and shelter.
"These people will milk the cows, use them for work, use the dung for fertilizer and use that income to pay off the loans and increase their own standard of living," said Jake Frischknecht, an Asian studies major.
"When we've discussed poverty and social ills in economics classes, a lot of times the theory doesn't fit with what we see outside," he said. "And it’s easy to throw up our hands and say, ‘great abstract theory, but we’re really not going to do anything about it.' But this micro financing is a fantastic proven tool.”
Their professor calls it a bold endeavor that will pay off for the Cambodians and ultimately for his students in a life lesson.
"I'm passionate about it because I've been there and I know it works and I love having the kids see that spark and see that they actually become part of the solution," said Roberts. "With microcredit, there’s a responsibility and accountability that comes back and shows that, yes, this works."
Not only is this project in Cambodia involving all of the students, they hope it will inspire other Utahns as well.
"We've all got three things that we can give. We've got our time, we've got our treasure and we've got talent," said one student, pointing to a chart.
The students say the idea may be simple, but sometimes those are the best ones.
“When you hear of all the success stories and all the good that it can do,” said Caceres, “you basically are immersed in believing that, yes, you can make a difference by just doing something like this and you make a difference halfway around the world for a lot of people.”
The students are partnering with the non-profit organization YouthLinc in Utah and have two fundraisers in April and a Facebook page for donations.