By Maxine Friedman
For The Diamondback
Two University of Maryland organizations working to improve social issues — ROOTS Africa and Chat Health — have won $5,000 each as part of this university’s Do Good Challenge.
The Do Good Institute within this university’s public policy school held its ninth annual award premiere virtually on April 29. ROOTS Africa won first place for the Project Track award, and Chat Health won first place for the Venture Track award.
ROOTS Africa introduced a pilot program to help students and their families adapt to the pandemic in a safe and efficient way.
The program provided a virtual bootcamp with an 18-hour curriculum for 60 students at three universities in Uganda and Liberia with seven extension agents. ROOTS Africa was able to subsidize the students’ internet costs and provide the students with a stipend to do work in their communities, said Jeremy Schmidt, the program manager.
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, ROOTS Africa raised “$20,000 to support 1,000 families to stay home and safe during the pandemic, trained more than 400 farmers, and has five university chapters working in six villages and three high schools in Uganda and Liberia,” according to the Do Good website.
After three previous failed attempts to make it to the final round of the Do Good Challenge, Cedric Nwafor, the founder and executive director of the program and a nonprofit management graduate student, and Jeremy Schmidt, a public policy graduate student, said they made the sudden decision to apply one more time.
Little did they know, they would go on to win the entire challenge. After learning of their win, Schmidt said he called Nwafor, who was screaming with joy with his wife and baby.
Additionally, the Rugged Elegance Foundation appeared in a surprise video during the awards premiere telling ROOTS Africa they would match their $5,000 prize dollar for dollar, totaling their winnings to $10,000.
“Winning the Do Good Challenge allows us to scale that impact. It allows us to continue to provide that program, modify it, tweak it a little bit, and offer it to more students at universities in Africa,” Schmidt said.
Nwafor said being able to give back to the community through the ROOTS Africa project has given him drive and purpose.
“You need to have something that contributes to society, that contributes to individuals, and being a part of some of the organizations on campus like ROOTS Africa gives you that space to be able to do good,” Nwafor said. “This is a recipe for happiness.”
Chat Health, a not-for-profit organization that aims to provide students with accurate health and COVID-19 information via AI chat bots and other mobile technologies, won first place on the Venture Track.
“The goal of the venture is to increase accessibility of health information and connections to health resources for college students that are living on campuses,” said Veeraj Shah, a senior biological sciences and individual studies major and the CEO of Chat Health.
Chat Health is also working toward expanding its venture to other universities around the country in a “chapter-based model,” Shah said.
Shah emphasized the importance of making sure health services are easily accessible and understandable for college students.
“The idea is that really poor health literacy and misconceptions about where to get health resources and how to access health resources is a real problem on college campuses, especially now, both during COVID and in a post-COVID environment,” he said.
Chat Health was launched in March 2020 and has been through constant revision, Shah said.
Now, with the funding of the Do Good Challenge, the Chat Health team will expand their current SMS technology to a broader mobile app with new features such as a Q&A chat bot, a personalized health dashboard and an event promotion page.
“Getting first place was just such a validation of our team’s work,” Shah said. “We were all with each other, and it was like the happiest thing ever.”