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People making concrete
Members of Service Without Borders and local residents mix concrete to build a warming hut in Dhumba, Nepal.

Student-led service group is making a difference locally and globally

Three students teamed up in 2014 to create Service Without Borders, seeking to share the spirit of Virginia Tech’s motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), locally and globally by providing assistance to communities in need.

Today, the collaborative, student-led organization has ongoing projects helping communities in Nepal and Tanzania, as well as ones closer to home in Blacksburg, Virginia. An additional project is being developed in India. 

The Nepal project was launched in response to the 2015 earthquake that killed nearly 9,000 people. Students traveled to the village of Dhumba in northern Nepal to collect data and formulate a design for an agricultural irrigation system heavily damaged during the earthquake. A more recent project has focused on developing a warming hut, a passive solar-heated shelter for elders in Dhumba.

Evan Charnoff is a second-year civil engineering student who is co-leading the project in summer 2019.

“I first heard about Service Without Borders during my visit to campus as a prospective student,” he said. “It’s a smaller group, so you work alongside people and have a bigger part in the projects.”

Charnoff said he did not think he would have an opportunity to travel abroad so early in his college career. But, he said, the group’s leadership chooses who participates “based on why you want to go and what you can contribute. Everyone who is passionate and committed will travel.”

Students and faculty members from across the university participate. Students organize and raise funds in multidisciplinary teams. 

“A lot of our fundraising is to move equipment — the cement, rebar, all the tools that they need in the village to repair an irrigation canal damaged in the earthquake,” Charnoff said.

In Tanzania, Service Without Borders is working to provide primary school education to Masai youth in the northern Engaruka area. Service Without Borders partnered with a Tanzanian nongovernmental organization to build an elementary school to serve youth from the village of Engaruka and surrounding communities. Virginia Tech students will volunteer at the school as English teachers.

Service Without Borders also engages with service-oriented groups in and around the New River Valley. 

Among the local projects the group has been involved with are Parents Night Out, Habitat for Humanity, Rescue Mission of Roanoke, Christiansburg Elementary School, and The Big Event, a student-run day of service that has grown into the second largest event of its kind in the nation.