Kathir, Xie use Venture Grant to pursue passions

November 8, 2019

To say Xinnuo “Selina” Xie ’20 and Kavin Kathir ’22 had eventful summers would be an understatement.


For the two Cheshire Academy students, a portion of their summer months were spent volunteering and learning about topics and issues they care deeply about. Their experiences were made possible through the Rizzolo-Larson Venture Grant, a funding program offered to students interested in pursuing innovative projects intended to enhance their educational opportunities outside of the classroom. 


Xie and Kathir shared details about their journeys with the student body, faculty, and staff on Nov. 7. 


For Xie, use of the grant allowed her to travel to South Africa, where she researched ways to stop illegal wildlife trading (IWT). She said pangolins, rhinos, tigers, and elephants are just some of the animals illegally hunted and killed for their scales, horns, skins, bones, and ivory. 


At the Southern African Wildlife College, Xie participated in a Wildlife Poaching and Trafficking Journalism Training Workshop, where she learned different ways to educate the public on the dangers of killing endangered animals. For example, research suggests providing young men 18 to 24 years old more opportunities for work to prevent them from entering the fields of poaching and smuggling 


Tourists, on the other hand, need to be given more educational materials on the dangers of consuming and purchasing products of legally-protected animals, Xie said. 


Tourists who may encounter wildlife products such as ivory accessories in flea markets and souvenir stores are now being educated about legislation and the cruelty behind the products,” Xie explained. “Therefore, the tourists could have less incentive to purchase the products.” 


The Cheshire Academy senior also stayed with an experiential learning tourist group from China at a wildlife reserve. At the end of their visit, many group members discussed what they learned. 


“Most of them presented a really strong relationship (with) the wildlife, so I believe that it is an effective way to prevent IWT and increase awareness,” Xie said, of the program. 


Following her trip, Xie was invited to attend several conferences in China. Her research was published online. 


Kathir spent three weeks in Bangladesh volunteering as a member of Distressed Children & Infants International (DCI), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to support children in Bangladesh and surrounding countries by providing them with education and medical support. 


Over the past five years, Kathir has volunteered with DCI and has been sponsoring a child living in Bangladesh. He said donating $15 each month ensures that the child remains in school. 


“Though it may seem like nothing for us, it can really change a life over there,” explained Kathir. “… The parents cannot afford to send their kids to school, so they send their kids into the labor force instead for an additional source of income. When we send them money—though it may seem like a small amount to us—it gives them enough money to provide their child with an education and save them from the labor force.” 


During his trip, Kathir volunteered at the DCI-sponsored Sun Child Orphanage and local health clinic. His days were long, normally running from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., and were spent teaching his students English, organizing a spelling bee, and implementing a self-learning platform alongside another volunteer for the class to use when they returned home. 


In what downtime he did have, Kathir visited slum areas, checked out important buildings, and methe young girl he had been sponsoring. 


“To see her for the first time and to see the impact that my small contribution had in her life gave me an unforgettable feeling,” Kathir said. “We established a good connection and I hope to continue to stay in touch.” 


Kathir urged his classmates to apply for the Rizzolo-Larson Venture Grant to pursue their personal interests. 


“It will give you an unforgettable experience,” Kathir said. “… I encourage everyone to get involved with volunteering. Not only will you be given a chance to help others, but you will form friendships for a lifetime.”