Paul Hemminger may have completed his trip to Mombasa, Kenya, but his lifelong mission to help humanity is far from complete.
The senior from Sandusky majoring in marketing was one of BGSU’s Stuart R. Givens fellowship recipients. The fellowship provides students support to design their own learning experience almost anywhere in the world.
Hemminger wanted to help alleviate spiritual, emotional and financial poverty. He completed a three-month microfinancing internship through the Foundation for Sustainable Development. Microfinance is a general term used to describe financial services for low-income individuals or those who do not have access to typical banking services, Hemminger said.
The experience changed him as much as it did those he set out to help. “You’re more equipped to create something that will last,” he said. “It made me think and dream big. It made me step out of BG.”
Through his internship, he learned about culturally sensitive development and how to improve the quality of life for lower-class individuals. He worked with impoverished local entrepreneurs and helped teach them how to lift themselves out of poverty by tracking their personal finances, developing business ideas and creating networking outlets.
“It was hard collecting and distributing loans; it was hard to get the hang of it,” he said.
Hemminger got his first taste of success when he was the first student of his group to lead one of the entrepreneurship forums.
“About 400 people showed up,” Hemminger remembered. “It was so exciting. I stood up in front of everyone and smiled and laughed and said, ‘Thank you, thank you! Thank you for coming!’”
Some of his most memorable experiences happened outside of work. He lived in an enclosed, two-bedroom house with steel-barred windows. Every morning, he woke up sweating inside a mosquito net.
“I used so much bug spray and lotion at night and I wore long sleeves,” Hemminger said. “But during the night, I had to sleep in a mosquito net or else I would have gotten really sick. I did get malaria.”
He lived with his host mother, Mama Pamela, and her nephew, Collins. Mama Pamela usually prepared a breakfast of hot water, a bowl of beans, and a few pieces of bread.
He especially enjoyed the Kenyan culture, including dancing, watching the World Cup and spending time in a local bar. He met a group of local boys with whom he spoke Swahili, which is uncommon for a non-Kenyan to speak. “I tried to teach them about science, math and business; they were so eager to learn.”
Hemminger hopes to work this fall for Affirm Global Development, a Bowling Green company that provides solar lights for impoverished cities in countries like India and South Africa. He also created and is now co-CEO of Net Impact BGSU, an organization that promotes sustainable and beneficial change throughout the campus and community.
“There’s a balance between wanting to change the world, and realizing that you can’t,” Hemminger said. “You constantly have to harmonize between optimism and realism. I don’t think that anyone that exists in this development world ever feels completely accomplished.”
In the future, he hopes to work for a university to empower students to travel and dream big, he said.
“It’s not okay to not know what’s going on in the world,” Hemminger said. “It’s not okay to not smile at people you pass on the sidewalk.”