Junior strives to make a global impact
Junior Hillary Sapanski dedicates her time to a variety of organizations aimed at assisting those in need worldwide.
From behind a table in Pulver Pavilion, Hillary Sapanski ’13 of New Canaan, Conn. has slowly worked toward building a better world, both on and off the Hill. “I feel like I’ve always wanted to give back [to the community] because I’ve been very lucky growing up,” she said. “I wished I could do something—I wished there was a way I could help out.”
Most days of the week, people passing through Cotter Union find Sapanski sitting patiently behind a table campaigning for some cause, but the reality is that she can hardly help but think about the immediacy of the social issues she advocates for during these pockets of time between classes. “I just don’t know how far I can go—I don’t know how to help everyone, and it’s freaking me out,” she said.
Sapanski’s latest table campaign is selling “Mission Somalia” bracelets to help raise funds for those suffering from the famine in Somalia, a disaster that has already killed millions of people. “Natural disasters put a lot of innocent people in bad situations, and a lot of things that come up are out of people’s control,” she said. “It’s just hard knowing that I’m here at Colby and then thinking about what people are going through in places like Somalia.”
This isn’t Sapanski’s first time reaching out to students on the Hill to help. After the March 2011 earthquake off of the Pacific coast of Japan, Sapanski immediately organized the “Colby Loves Japan” campaign with Taro Funabashi ’12 and Kimiko Kossler ’12, which sent over $10,000 to the Japanese Red Cross Society. “I had family in Hawaii at the time. I was worried about the tsunami, and I knew a lot of people were connected to Japan. I just felt like I had to do something; I couldn’t just sit there.”
Sapanski’s good works began when she came to the Hill in the fall of 2009 and heard about a program with the Colby Volunteer Center (CVC). “It started when a friend told me about evening meals in Waterville,” she said. Twice a week Sapanski and other students make and distribute dinners at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Silver Street. “It’s a raw experience with kind of mixed emotions,” she said. “You hear people’s stories, and I feel like I’ve become more aware of what’s going on in Waterville. There’s so much we all can do, and everyone deserves to be happy. I feel like I recognize more people and try to make them smile.”
Since her first semester on the Hill, Sapanski, a global studies major with a minor in education, has been actively involved in almost every civic engagement opportunity she can find. She began mentoring through Colby Cares About Kids (CCAK) her sophomore year in addition to becoming an EcoRep with EnviroCo, and, most recently, she helped start a “pen pal” Skype group with students at the Escuela Marina Orth in Medellín, Colombia. Sapanski was inspired to take part in this project when Maureen Orth, an Elijah Parish Lovejoy Journalist in Residence, spoke of her experience during the Peace Corps.
In addition to juggling a full schedule during the school year, Sapanski also took her passion with her this past summer. Sapanski interned with the Face-to-Face AIDS Project (F2F), a Brooklyn-based organization that works to overcome HIV and poverty in Malawi by empowering vulnerable individuals and their communities to work towards sustainable change. This coming JanPlan, Sapanski expects to travel to Malawi and work with the people on the ground.
“I don’t want to go with the mindset that I’m volunteering. I want to go there with the mindset of getting to know them as people—learning about their culture and situations, and how wonderful they are,” Sapanski said. “I hope this experience will help me better understand what it is I’m doing.”
Sapanski expects to work with Malawian youth groups and to speak with young adults who will go into their communities and teach skills and issues relevant to the community. “I know I can’t change millions of lives, but there’s definitely the satisfaction of helping individual people. Like with LuziCare, we’re sending $2,000 a year, but that will help sustain a community of 25 villages. It makes a huge impact. I can’t wait to meet them finally. It may only be a hundred people, but it still makes a difference.”
When asked about her impact, Sapanski is humble: “What does it mean to make a better world? I don’t want to impose my beliefs on the rest of the world. It’s about people developing a sustainable way in their own culture. It’s so difficult. We can do it, but it takes a lot of encouragement, pushing and not giving up.”
After her time in Malawi, Sapanski will study abroad in the spring in Santiago, Chile with a School for International Training program focusing on comparative education and social change. There she hopes to improve her Spanish and revisit the continent she fell in love with while volunteering two summers ago in Peru. “Eventually I want to become a teacher, but first I’d like to work toward education reform and community development and maybe get a job teaching after I help with fixing the system. Everyone deserves the right to a good education.”
One of Sapanski’s fondest memories during her time at Colby so far is, not surprisingly, off the Hill when she did a JanPlan teaching science and dance at the Gandhi Ashram School in Kalimpong, India. “It was one of the best experiences of my life, but when we were in India, I was questioning everything I had ever done,” she said. One of the things she valued most was the exposure to the socio-economic questions and diverse cultures in Kalimpong. “My favorite thing was going home to villages and meeting students’ families. It was great to play with them, to laugh with them, to dance with them. I feel like they have a lot of potential. I miss it every day.
“I have an addiction to traveling. I love my home and my family, but I just feel like there’s so much in this world that I just need to see and experience. I want to understand where people come from,” Sapanski said. “Helping people is a passion I have, and it’s something I want to do for the rest of my life.”