Students represent UAB in social justice initiative

Oxfam bonaroo sizedBrian Rice, left, sits with another volunteer at an Oxfam outreach table at this year's Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Tennessee. Brendan Rice participated in the Oxfam CHANGE Initiative training in 2011 and set a path that UAB students have followed each year since.

For the past four years a UAB student has been chosen to participate in the weeklong training that focuses on ways to advocate in the global fight against poverty, hunger and injustice. Oxfam choses 50 students each year for its program and encourages them to create action on their campuses and in their communities.

“Part of the CHANGE leader’s responsibilities are finding creative ways to engage the student body and Birmingham community with Oxfam’s GROW Campaign,” said Brian Rice, brother of Brendan and 2012 participant. “Through concert outreach, for example, UAB students have been able to advocate for Oxfam programs at local concerts from Oxfam partner bands. We have also given out information at local farmers markets and raised awareness about the importance of supporting small farmers globally in addressing hunger and poverty at the community level.”

The Oxfam GROW Campaign promotes changing the way the food system works by growing more food, empowering small-scale producers and building a global food governance system. According to Oxfam, nearly one in eight people regularly go hungry, and the campaign says these changes can help reduce that number.

Brian Rice, a senior in international studies and political science, said CHANGE Leaders have hosted Oxfam America Hunger Banquets, film screenings, refugee camp simulations and fundraisers on UAB’s campus.

“One of our most successful events was held on International Women’s Day in 2013, where we handed out free chocolate from the three biggest chocolate companies — Mars, Mondelez and Nestle — that were wrapped with Oxfam’s call to these companies to change the way they treat women farmers along their production line,” Rice said.

Heather Lee, instructional design specialist in the School of Health Professions, said the students have initiated the involvement with Oxfam CHANGE and continue to lead the way. Lee has been serving as the campus adviser for the students who have applied for the training program. In order to apply to the Oxfam CHANGE Initiative program, students must have official campus adviser who is required write a letter of recommendation stating how they will help the student implement plans on campus. She helped create the Universities Fighting World Hunger, and met Brendan Rice through that program. Since then students have come to her for advice and help during the application process, but she’s quick to give the students all the credit.  

Oxfam CHANGE sizedBrian Rice, left, and his brother Brendan Rice, right, with another Oxfam CHANGE Initiative trainee, center, in Boston in 2012.“I’ve worked with students to help implement their ideas on campus,” Lee said. “But they found this opportunity with Oxfam CHANGE, so it’s totally them and they’ve run with it.”

Lee said all of the students accepted from UAB were first involved in UFWH and showed interest in the Oxfam training program. 

She also said Brendan Rice was instrumental in getting other students to apply for the program. His involvement with Oxfam, through internships and the Oxfam CHANGE Initiative, helped him land a job with the organization after he graduated in 2012.

Weslie Shannon, who participated in 2013, said she was introduced to the program through former trainees Brendan and Brian Rice. The junior majoring in political science and international studies was drawn to Oxfam’s mission.

“The part of Oxfam’s mission that appeals to me the most is finding a lasting solution to hunger,” Shannon said. “Hunger can affect anyone, anywhere. Many individuals and families in the state of Alabama are unsure of where their next meal is coming from. I want to make sure that the numbers do not continue to grow.”

Junior Caitlin Alred will be heading to Boston in July to participate in the program. She also credits Brendan and Brian Rice with introducing her to the program. Alred, a junior majoring in public health with a concentration in global health, said she’s most looking forward to the leadership training.

“I feel that a lot of us have a pretty good idea of what is wrong with the world and what needs to be done to help create change. Acquiring the skills to take that knowledge and teach it to the world at large and begin the change is what I hope to gain out of the program,” Alred said.

Brian Rice said Oxfam will continue to be a presence on UAB’s campus through leaders like Shannon and Alred.

“Oxfam at UAB continues to be a great way for UAB students to engage with some of the most pressing issues surrounding global hunger and poverty, and we look forward to the coming year,” Rice said. 

UAB students interested in applying for next year's training can contact Heather Lee at