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Actions & Impact

Read about UWC-USA students, alumni, and faculty who are making a difference locally and globally.

Small Joys, Big Impact
Posted 02/28/2015 04:00PM

When she was age 6, Vanina Morrison '15 accompanied her older brother Stilian to visit local orphanages in their hometown of Kingston, Jamaica. They handed out treats and sang songs, and Vanina marveled that the children found so much joy in something so simple.

It is not hard to imagine Vanina spreading joy. She is quick to smile and laugh, and she loves to play her violin for others. That is why when she was 7 years old, Vanina informed her family that she would forgo big birthday parties and use the money that would have been spent to treat less fortunate children.

No doubt, Vanina has had advantages not available to all Jamaicans. She remembers being exposed to homeless people living next to neighborhoods with mansions. But Vanina was raised to be acutely aware of the disparity by her mother, who is a physician, and her father, who is a dentist.

"Since I was young, I just thought that was unfair and so did my parents," she says. "It was a big topic of discussion at home. Anytime we saw anyone on the street, my mom always stopped and talked to them to get to know their story, and soon she had many of these homeless people as friends and patients."

When Vanina announced her decision to reach out to other kids, her mother immediately called the Ministry of Education and figured out how to "adopt" the Denham Town Basic School in downtown Kingston. That was the start, nearly 10 years ago, of Vanish, the organization Vanina established to do her good work.

A combination of her first name and a close friend's last name, Vanish is also a play on words: Vanina hopes to someday "get rid of all the poverty and borders in society that cause certain people to have more privileges than others." Every Christmas, Vanish provides a party and bags of educational supplies for the top 100 Denham Town students, who are 3 to 8 years old.

During a break from her UWC-USA studies, went home to pick up the helm of Vanish and help coordinate a "Christmas treat." It takes many months of organizing and fundraising from friends, families, and local businesses to gather gifts, and Vanina acknowledges that the "treat" is, in some ways, a small thing. Yet she relishes the joy that these little extras can spread, as well as months of motivation Vanish inspires for the students.

For many people, the challenge of changing the world and the enormity of all the problems can be overwhelming. But Vanina is not easily daunted. And she believes that if everyone chose something to help with, our combined impact would be immense.

"You don't have to adopt a school; you could so something else. You could, let's say, clean a park, build a park," she says. "That's the only way something is going to change."

–By Tarra Hassin '91

Meet Mzwakithi Shongwe, '12, who came to UWC-USA from Swaziland.


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UWC-USA is one of 17 UWCs on five continents. Other countries that have UWCs include Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Swaziland, Thailand, and Wales.


UWC-USA students perform more than 18,700 hours of service every year through our association with 25 community partners. More than 2,500 people in Las Vegas, N.M. and the surrounding community have benefited from service projects led by UWC-USA students.


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Philanthropist Shelby Davis has created a $40 million endowment that provides 50 U.S. students with full scholarships to attend a UWC every year.


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