By: Sibyl Cherian, PharmD Candidate c/o 2013
Santhosh Cherian, is the co-founder and executive director of the Urban Humanitarian Projects (UHP). He is currently in his third year of medical school at St. George University and is completing his clinical clerkships in Brooklyn, New York.
St. John’s University is a Catholic, Vincentian and metropolitan university. It seeks to follow in the footsteps of St. Vincent de Paul, a man known for his compassion and zeal for service. Urban Humanitarian Projects (UHP) is a New York-based nonprofit organization that exemplifies many of the characteristics that St. John’s University holds in high regard. The organization is mainly compossed of St. George’s University students, a medical school in Grenada.
Mr. Santhosh Cherian, executive director of UHP, began the first, Urban Santa Project (USP), in 2009 by delivering gifts to 23 children at Covenant House in NY. By next December, USP was involved with five different organizations based in New York and New Jersey. That year, approximately 300 young children received gifts. In 2011, USP exponentially grew to include over 1200 children from 19 different organizations. Urban Santa team, which consists of a Santa Clause and 3-4 elves, visited almost every organization during the week of Christmas (including Christmas day) to hand deliver the presents. USP was also able to reach out to children at 5 different orphanages in Haiti through two new partners, Operation Haiti Recovery and Yele Haiti Foundation. Gifts to the children in Haiti were shipped via Amerijet International, who generously sponsored all shipping costs.
I became a volunteer of this organization in 2009 and it has been a phenomenal experience for me. The team gets in touch with various organizations months in advance in order to get information on the children that will be present on Christmas. We then spend the next few months fundraising for the anticipated number of children. In the weeks before Christmas, the Urban Santa team begins purchasing gender and age appropriate gifts for these children. Space for wrapping was donated by one of UHP’s advisory board members, Dr. Nilay Shah in New York, and by Homewood Suites in New Jersey. This year, several pharmacy students from St. John’s University College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions were able to donate their time and efforts to help wrap presents.
St. John’s University has always prided itself in its efforts to provide exceptional education, especially those lacking economic, physical, or social advantages. Similarly, as part of the mission to improve education in urban communities, UHP undertook a second project, Urban GURUS. In partnership with New York City Department of Education, UHP launched a high school mentorship program called GURUS Project to address the issue of high dropout rates in the city high schools. St. George’s Chancellor Charles R. Modica, who advocated for the inclusion of high school students as part of the organization’s initiative, donated $6,000 to launch the program. During one GURUS meeting, twenty-eight computers were donated by InnovatePC.com for the “Build-a-PC” event. Mentors and mentees worked to construct a computer from scratch, after which the mentees could keep the computers. GURUS Project will run through this academic year and resume in September with another class of students.
Currently, UHP is working to raise funds for this as well as several other projects, including a GURUS project in Grenada. UHP will be working with The Grenada Carriacou and Petit Martinique Foundation for Needy Students to launch a new computer training program for young Grenadian children. UHP will also be using funds for Operation ASHA, in an effort to support ASHA’s efforts to eradicate tuberculosis in India.
In a world where there is still much room for improvement in terms of health and education, it is important to recognize those organizations that seek to bring change.. UHP’s endeavor to help catalyze this change is directly aligned with the mission of St. John’s University. Furthermore, it provides a way for students to become more involved through volunteering for one of the various projects. When asked about his motivation behind UHP, Mr. Cherian said, “The dedication of our team of volunteers and the impact we had on the world in such a short period of time is my greatest motivation. Working with highly motivated individuals and organizations who are driven by the desire to improve our community has been a wonderful experience.”
For more information about UHP, visit www.uhp.org to see the work that Operation ASHA is carrying out in India to eradicate tuberculosis for young Grenadian children.