One night during her sophomore year, working very late in Davis Library, Sindhura Citineni ’04 was rummaging around on the Internet, feeling almost delirious with the pressure of papers and other work that was due. Around three in the morning, she stumbled upon a Web site that flashed every time someone in the world died of hunger.
Suddenly she began seeing images of people from earlier in her life: an old man with no legs who sat on a wooden plank outside the school she attended in India; little children picking up trash. “I’d walked past them,” she says, “inches away but worlds away. At that point, I was in tears.”
She started thinking, “What if it was my dad? My brother? It’s someone’s dad, someone’s brother.” She felt a powerful drive to do something, and into her mind popped an intriguing idea she’d heard earlier that day. A UNC medical student had visited an orphanage in Nicaragua and found a way to add eggs to the children’s staple meal of beans and rice.
Sindhura turned that late night inspiration into an undergraduate project, Hunger Lunch, which raised money for hunger relief by selling simple meals of beans, rice and cornbread to students in the Pit. “When she started, she didn’t know where she was going to get the food from,” recalls friend and colleague Joel Thomas ’06. “She just strolled into Lenoir, went downstairs, walked right in and started talking to people. She didn’t waste time looking on line to see who the best person to talk with was. She’s good at moving forward when there’s no clear path whatsoever.”
Move forward she did, finding a caterer, getting permission to serve food in the Pit, finding fellow volunteers, getting funding from APPLES and the Carolina Center for Public Service. Based in the Campus Y, Hunger Lunch was the first undergraduate international hunger relief organization at UNC. In its first year, the project raised more than $7,500.
Sindhura and another student used that money to set up a “Nutrition House” that served a high-protein, high-calcium drink to children in her native city, Hyderabad, India. Each year, the Hunger Lunch collection grew – and so did the projects it funded, all chosen according to Sindhura’s desire both to stretch the money raised and to involve students directly with the projects they were funding. She wanted, she says, to get her hands dirty and really learn from the communities they chose.
As Kenan-Flagler professor Ted Zoller has said, Sindhura didn’t want just to develop another program, she wanted to start a movement. She and seven other students entered the UNC business plan competition, the Carolina Challenge, and through that process expanded Hunger Lunch into a freestanding nonprofit organization called Nourish International. The team took second place in the Challenge’s social enterprise category and further developed their ideas through Kenan-Flagler’s intensive Launch the Venture course.
Nourish is very much a team effort – by the time Sindhura graduated from Carolina, 120 young leaders were part of the organization – but she remains hands-on, serving on the board and working every week on fundraising even as she pursues a degree at the UNC School of Dentistry. Becoming a dentist, she says, will let her continue to have a role in Nourish and do the hands-on work she cares about. She hopes to help bring dental services to poor areas.
As of this summer, Nourish International has established nine long-term, sustainable development projects within impoverished communities. One is a micro-irrigation project in the Bolivian Andes; another helped build community food plots at elementary schools in Buenos Aires; others are in such countries as Tanzania, Guatemala, Mexico and Uganda. Joel Thomas, who has known Sindhura since his freshman year, is now Nourish’s executive director. Headquartered in Chapel Hill, the organization has 23 chapters at universities across the United States and plans to expand steadily in the coming years.
Almost from the beginning of her time at UNC, campus organizations recognized what a remarkable person Sindhura is. She received a Burch Fellowship, a Bryan Fellowship, an Intellectual Life Grant from the Johnston Center for Undergraduate Excellence, a Carolina Undergraduate Health Fellowship and a Marion Dixon BSBA scholarship, which recognizes excellence in service to the community. She’s an argonaut in the Order of the Golden Fleece, and the Kenan-Flagler Business School joins us in considering her an Outstanding Young Alumna. And this year, the North Carolina Peace Corps organization honored Nourish International with the North Carolina Peace Prize for excellence in cross-cultural solutions and sustainable development.
Sindhura’s friend James Dillard ’07, who is assistant director for Nourish, says she is wonderful to work with because of her passion for what she does. “It’s a treat just to be around her,” he says. “I don’t think she’s ever run into a bad idea. She is always willing to explore and consider the possibilities.”
That support for other people’s ideas is important both to her friends and to the organization she helped found. Her encouragement for others’ contributions is essential to Nourish International. “She doesn’t know what a catalyst that is,” Joel Thomas says.
Sindhura herself says the enthusiasm of those she works with keeps hers alive. “Sometimes I slip into asking, does this really matter?” she says. “But every time I go to a board meeting, every time we interview new chapter founders, it’s amazing how much passion they have. It brings me back to when I first started. It’s the compelling thing that will keep me tied to Nourish.”
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