“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
The ancient Chinese proverb is one that most people know, but for University of San Diego student Jeremiah Young, it’s a philosophy for life.
Young, an International Relations major, isn’t your typical senior. He has run his own non-profit organization for almost two years, and balances his schoolwork with running international aid programs in three countries, putting hours in at his job and coaching high school soccer.
Initially a bioengineering major at University of California, San Diego, Young knew he wanted to make an impact on the world in a big way. He chose to transfer to USD and when he sought the Political Science and International Relations Department and individual attention from acclaimed professors, Young discovered that some of the world’s biggest problems weren’t being dealt with in a way that secured long-term success.
Inspired by Hurricane Katrina and the path of destruction it caused for millions of Americans, Young (pictured, third from left) and his co-workers at the local soccer shop where he works, started discussing how they could help, and soon, Young developed what is now Bloom Projects International (BPI), a non-profit that specializes in research, analysis and media.
“Bloom Projects International looks to find solutions to long-term problems rather than short-term, need-based treatments. Solutions for short-term needs are only treatments which breed dependency unless there’s a long-term plan working with it,” Young said. “We design long-term plans based on all the factors that are contributing to the particular problem we’re trying to solve. It’s a solution set that involves multifaceted programs meant to weaken the factors that feed the main issue we’re trying to deal with.”
Currently, BPI runs programs in Mississippi, Swaziland in Africa, India and soon, in Cambodia. In Mississippi, the program centers on providing help for those who have lost their homes and who are caught in the bureaucratic nightmare of trying to rebuild. As a passionate Young explains, you must have insurance to get a loan to rebuild, but most insurance companies in the Gulf Coast have rates too expensive to purchase. Without insurance, there is no loan, and without a loan, there is no house, and without a home, there is no future.
“Bloom Projects International seeks to help people live their lives, not just survive,” he explains. It may be a simple thought, but in reality is a huge undertaking for a small, 10-person operation that survives completely on Young’s soccer store salary and a few meager donations.
Additionally, for three years, Young has also worked on a documentary that visually depicts and explains the reasons why it is taking so long to rebuild in the Gulf Coast. It has been a cornerstone for getting additional volunteers invested in the work.
The research BPI completes is then turned into a program designed to provide long-term solutions to large problems. The actual programs are then implemented by a combination of specialized aid organizations and locals, whenever possible, who have been organized and trained to work together with BPI.
One of the programs Young and his colleagues are most proud of, is an AIDS education initiative in Africa that relies upon soccer to teach young men about the dangers of AIDS. Many of these young men are the caretakers of younger siblings who were orphaned after their parents died from the deadly disease. Young explains that the level of knowledge about AIDS is so low that many believe it can be caught by shaking hands.
“By using soccer, we provide these kids with mentors, whom they learn to trust. They learn about teamwork and how to think as a team. Simply passing the ball and relying on a teammate to move the ball forward works wonder in teaching these young men how to interact and rely upon each other,” he says. Young explains that these boys learn that shielding the ball from an opponent is like shielding yourself from AIDS by being educated about the disease and learning to protect yourself — just as you’re protecting the ball.
In India and Cambodia, Young and his team focus on the sex trade, and providing women an alternative. “The failure rate once women have been rescued is the issue. We’re working with the “Not For Sale” campaign to find jobs for these women with a good wage, job skills and psychological training and counseling,” Young says. It’s another multifaceted solution to different problems all associated with each other and contributing to the overall issue facing women in these countries.
Young is energized as he talks about his team and the problems they’re tackling, and his enthusiasm is infectious. Sitting across from him, one can’t help but feel hopeful that some of the world’s most devastating and heartbreaking problems may in fact improve over the next 10 years if there are people like Young out there fighting for those without a voice. Young, who graduates in May, said he will devote his time fully to BPI and its next chapter.
— Melissa Wagoner
Click on the organization’s name to earn more about Bloom Projects International.