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Project Vida: When one good thing leads to another, and keeps on going

Salem Carriker: Leading for Children's Health

In 2010, when pre-med student Jon Aun challenged freshmen to “Drop Everything and Lead” as part of his senior thesis, Salem Carriker took note. And started her own student organization, one that would send her and her comrades to shelters in Columbia to teach children about good health.

Four years later, Project Vida has educated close to 200 disadvantaged children about nutrition, hygiene, first aid, and exercise. Hands-on and interactive, Project Vida makes learning fun. Children make trail mix, participate in field days and skits, and get health and exercise kits to prompt them to practice what they’ve learned. For Carriker, a McNair Scholar and anthropology major with plans for medical school, Project Vida was the best part of her USC career.

“There were many times when I arrived at a site exhausted from the week, only to have my spirit renewed through talking and playing with the kids,” she said. “Project Vida taught all of us about the importance of being involved in our community, and it also provided a safe and fun experience for the children.”

Magellan Scholar and biochemistry major Fides Elamparo discovered her own unexpected rapport with children through Project Vida. She attributes her new confidence to Carriker, her friend since freshman year. She says the communication techniques she developed—using balloons to demonstrate air flowing through lungs, for instance—will help when she becomes a doctor.

About 65 students have devoted 430 hours of direct service through Project Vida since 2010. They’ve taught children about body systems, diseases, buying and growing healthy food, and careers in health and science. The Bernard and Arline Ramsdale Endowment Fund, which supports community service and social needs research by SCHC students, helped underwrite Project Vida.

Unlike many initiatives that fade when dynamic leaders graduate, Project Vida is continuing.

“Salem and Fides have built a great team of successors who will make sure Project Vida continues to thrive,” said Dr. Susan Alexander, Project Vida’s faculty advisor and director of Service Learning and Undergraduate Research. “It’s as though from the moment they began, they not only understood the value of their mission but the importance of sustaining it.”