Live, learn and serve

Members of the Healthy Living and Learning Community raising money to fund a school in Kenya


UW-Eau Claire freshman Carlos Diaz, pictured in the brown sweater leading a group discussion, introduced the idea of funding a school in Africa to the Healthy LLC after already funding two schools in Uganda and Sierra Leone.

UW-Eau Claire freshman Carlos Diaz had always lived through Mother Teresa’s philosophy “give ‘till it hurts.”

“Since I’ve been a kid, I’ve felt getting involved and giving back to your community is one of the most simple forms of kindness,” he said.

In May 2013, the then Arcadia High School senior got a platform to fulfill his philosophy even more.

Diaz was chosen as a youth delegate representative for the U.S. to the United Nations, and this October, he was chosen as a youth ambassador to the UN. Since May, he has had opportunities to travel abroad and meet leaders who share his same passion for serving.

Taylor Conroy of the Change of Heroes organization was one of those leaders. Change of Heroes has been working on building schools in third-world African countries.

Diaz became inspired, and he eventually helped fund two schools in Uganda and Sierra Leone.

Back in Eau Claire, Diaz then needed another platform to continue his work, and as it turns out, there was one in plain sight.

Four years ago, kinesiology professor Tracy Yengo helped start the Healthy Living and Learning Community on campus. The goal of this organization is to not just live a healthy lifestyle, but promote it to others.

This fall, many of the freshmen involved were enrolled in her KINS 262 class, which centered around global health issues.

After a particular class discussion that turned into an energetic one about race relations, Yengo knew leaders were plentiful in this group.

“I remember saying to a colleague of mine, this class I have is special. They were dynamic, they were engaged,” Yengo said.

She wasn’t the only one who noticed. Diaz was one of those 12 members in the class, and he decided to bring his mission of building African schools local.

“What I saw from that community was a connection that everyone had in that class, so I thought ‘this is a perfect place to introduce it,’” Diaz said.

And so he did.

Although his classmates knew they had to do a service project to complete the course, raising $10,000 between 12 students was no small task. Diaz and Yengo met and mutually concluded $10,000 was daunting, so Diaz cut his classmates a deal. He lowered the goal to $2,000 and said he’d chip the rest in himself. The rest of the students followed Diaz’s enthusiasm and put all hands on deck.

“It just takes one person to light that,” Yengo said. “It’s Carlos’s idea, but it was the group. They all just add to that environment.”

The group is now at around $1,000 of fundraising and is hoping to reach its goal by Feb. 14. Fellow freshman Nate Virnig was one student who was a little intimidated by the idea at first. Now, he is all in, and he has even fundraised the most amount of money up to this point in the campaign.

“A little money might not be a big deal to us, but to them, it’s a big deal that could change their lives,” Virnig said.

The school, which would be built in Kenya, would not just be a place to learn about the academic basics, but also life skills.

Diaz has been to Africa to spend time at his other two schools he helped fundraise for and he said the lives people live in oppressed regions in that area of the world are unimaginable compared to middle class people in the United States.

“In some parts, over 80 percent of the population lives under $1.25 a day,” Diaz said. “Children are having to travel hundreds of miles just to get clean water that will kill them eventually. They’re struggling to just live. That ties in with their education system.”

He also said infant mortality rates are much higher in Africa than other parts of the world in part because of inadequate education. He said the school the Healthy LLC will assist citizens in learning how to live healthier lives.

“They’re learning about sex education, they’re learning how to be somebody in life,” Diaz said. “They’re learning life saving strategies. It’s more than just a school, it’s an education center.”

To Diaz’s knowledge, Eau Claire is the only university in the country that has a specific group of students helping with this project. Other institution’s have certain individuals lend a hand, but no group of students like the Healthy LLC.

The Healthy LLC is taking donations up to Feb. 14 or perhaps a later deadline if need be. If interested, Yengo said donations are being collected in the kinesiology department in the upper level of the McPhee Physical Education Center. She also said the information desk right outside the department would accept donations for the project.

Diaz said giving back is something every person should think about doing, because you never know of someone else’s situation.

“I think charity is mostly important because we’re all human beings,” Diaz said. “We all need help sometimes. Treating others with respect is a simple form of kindness, so it’s truly important.”

For Diaz and the rest of his classmates and groupmates, there is no pain in “giving till it hurts.”