Sometimes changing the world starts with small steps – walking through downtown streets to support a cause, collecting books for children half way around the world, or even doing humble farm chores which support the mission of an equine therapy program for special needs children. Members of the UT student chapter of the International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research (UT-ISPOR) have experienced all of these activities in recent months as they work to help make the world a better place.
Opening the World for Others
Seven UT ISPOR members, all pharmacy administration graduate students, spent a misty Saturday in February volunteering at Open My World Therapeutic Riding Center in Leander, where the world changes for children with special needs through equine therapy.
The center is home to four very specially trained horses - Smokey, Jasper, Patches, and Target. There, children with mental or physical special needs ride the horses under supervision.
Before beginning their work, the student volunteers had an opportunity to meet and pet the animal inhabitants. In addition to the horses, they also met a donkey, several goats and a family of rabbits.
Donna Roland, the center's founder, is an amazing educator, horse lover and businesswoman. She directed the group's volunteer projects - enlarging a riding arena, building a bridle path, painting the inside of a parent observation room, building a pen in the center's petting zoo, and raking and bagging leaves.
Their favorite chore was helping to groom Target, a handsome black therapy horse with striking white markings--including a bulls-eye on his hindquarters.
While doing the work, the UT student volunteers had an opportunity to observe children coming to the center for their horse riding sessions. For some of the children, riding gives them a freedom of movement that they've never experienced, and therapy helps strengthen muscles as they reach to touch a silky neck or soft muzzle. For others, eagerness to ride has inspired them to speak for the first time—pronouncing "walk-on" as they learn that these words are connected to the action of moving forward.
The student assignments were hard work, but the group put their backs into it as they cheerfully worked together. The students may never get to see directly how the chores they did will change the world; but for the children whose lives are transformed through therapeutic riding, the world is a better place.
Books for Peo's Place
In the fall, ISPOR partnered with the college chapter of the International Society for Pharmacoepidemiology (UT-ISPE) to organize a book drive for Peo's Place in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa.
ISPOR members, including Lung-I Cheng, Milli Reddy and Yoona Kim, flew for almost 10,000 miles and 24 hours to South Africa to attend the grand opening of Peo's Place, a library that had been established by Reddy in memory of her mentor J.C. Peo. They brought with them approximately 100 children's books donated by students, faculty, staff and their family and friends.
Peo's Place is located in the picturesque Valley of 1000 Hills, inside the complex of 1000 Hills Community Helpers. Hidden behind the verdant pastures and tranquil hills is an impoverished community plagued by political strife during Apartheid and more recently by HIV/AIDS. The students shared that it became very evident that HIV/AIDS has taken a toll on this community as they glanced at the crowds outside the library and found mostly children and the elderly. Many of the community's working age people have died from the epidemic.
The luckier children turn to their grandparents for support, while the less fortunate ones are left as orphans. Many of them came to 1000 Hills Community Helpers for food and medical assistance because basic services are lacking. Peo's Place is the first and only library in the community.
During the opening ceremony, Reddy spoke about how Peo had influenced her life philosophy through his words and actions. The building's namesake suffered a tragic death in a robbery in the community to which he had devoted his life's work.
"When I looked at the volunteers around me, I saw the same resilience and optimism in them," Cheng said, adding that "one volunteer took in an orphan despite having seven children of her own to feed; doctors, pharmacists and nurses travel from miles away to come here and treat patients for free. It may be a very poor community, but people are generous with what they have to offer."
Cheng said that what began as a community outreach activity became an extremely inspiring experience.
"I have always believed that education empowers people, and Peo's Place will undoubtedly transform many children's lives," he said. "I deeply thank those who helped make this book drive successful, particularly the faculty advisors, Dr. Karen Rascati (UT-ISPOR) and Dr. James Wilson (UT-ISPE) for their unwavering support for student activities."
Walk to fight AIDS
In October 2009, members of UT-ISPOR participated in the 22nd AIDS Austin Walk. The walk was organized by AIDS Services of Austin, a not-for-profit community-based organization that provides social services and dental care to people afflicted with HIV/AIDS in central Texas.
On a sunny Sunday afternoon, UT-ISPOR members joined 1,500 other participants in front of City Hall and started the 3-mile walk around downtown Austin. The crowd was an eclectic mix – families, students, children, and even pets. Everyone was walking for the same purpose and same goal – to raise awareness for the needs of people who are living with HIV/AIDS.
As people marched on the streets, the traffic was virtually put to a halt, but the drivers did not lose their patience. In fact, many honked their cars to show support.
"The walk was a memorable experience for UT-ISPOR members," Cheng said. "It brought together people living in this community and helped build camaraderie."
As part of the initiative, UT-ISPOR also started a fundraiser at the college prior to the walk. Initially, the group set a modest goal of $250 but successfully raised more than $450 in a short period of time with faculty, students, and their families contributing to this great cause. The funds went to AIDS Services of Austin as well as Austin's other outstanding AIDS service organizations. Prevention, outreach, education programs, and many life-saving services all required continuous funding, and UT-ISPOR was proud to be part of the initiative that helped change people's lives in Texas.
Last Reviewed: March 11, 2010