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by Kandace Kohr
How do you define a community? Sure, there are buildings, residences and businesses. But Patrick Irwin ’17 knows that the social fabric of the community is essential, which is why he’s taken the liberal-arts education he received at Dickinson to the other side of the world as the creator of the Arusha Watoto Project in Tanzania, an initiative funded and managed by his U.S.-based nonprofit organization: Selfless Solutions.
A former biology major and member of the Red Devils football team, Irwin had always planned to study abroad during his time at Dickinson. However, when the time finally came, he decided to stay in Carlisle to focus on studying for the MCAT and prepare for a career in medicine. After graduation, he began working with the Program Evaluation and Research Unit (PERU) at the University of Pittsburgh.
While at Pitt, Irwin led a study that evaluated the performance of his current employer, Empower3 Center for Health, a healthcare company that owns and operates primary care offices that use an alternative pricing model to reduce costs and improve care quality. But he still felt the urge to go abroad. “It was my original intention to go to medical school after my year at Pitt, but I still wanted to see the world," he says. "And I figured what better way to do that than as a volunteer.”
After a quick Google search, he discovered myriad volunteer opportunities in Africa and decided on a program at a charity hospital in Arusha, Tanzania. It wasn’t long after his arrival in Africa before he was introduced to a local man, Seth Emmanuel, who had undertaken the daunting challenge of teaching and feeding 40 needy children through his project: Mother’s Mercy Children’s Center. Irwin felt that there was a greater need for his services at the center, and thus he began to work hand-in-hand with Seth to get his project off the ground. “We built a brand-new facility and increased the daycare’s capacity to 70 kids who come there every day to learn and receive meals," Irwin explains. "We now have a paid staff of three professional teachers and a matron who cooks and cleans for the children. We’ve also hired a social worker because the majority of our children have rough home lives.”
As a result of this experience, Irwin created Selfless Solutions and launched the Arusha Watoto Project in Tanzania, of which Mother’s Mercy is a part. The nonprofit collaborates with local organizations and businesses in Arusha to help meet indigent children's basic needs while providing quality education and healthcare services. To date, Selfless Solutions has reached over 100 children through its partnership with Mother’s Mercy and has sponsored 25 children to attend one of the best primary schools in the Arusha area.
The vison for Selfless Solutions grew out of Irwin's desire to create a better world today and secure a brighter future for the generations of tomorrow. To maintain this vision, Selfless Solutions creates and develops projects that prevent or alleviate the pains caused by poverty, mental illness, substance abuse, environmental degradation and poor access to quality education and health services. Selfless Solutions also offers services to help clients fully implement their missions, including project design, marketing strategy, fundraising, digital content creation, etc.
“One of the main reasons I started this is because there are so many people in Tanzania and at home who are trying to do good work but often can’t get their projects to reach their fullest potential because of a lack of resources, knowledge gaps, etc., and a lot of times similar projects could help them by working together and pooling resources," says Irwin. "So we’re ultimately trying to be the entity that supports these projects and connects them with the people and resources they need to be successful.”
A local student works on his studies with Patrick Irwin '17, founder and President of Selfless Solutions.
As for the future of Selfless Solutions, Irwin has worked with a fellow Tanzanian volunteer to co-found Selfless Solutions France, and plans are in the works to expand to Denmark as well. He wants to help build economic stability by supporting projects that will work toward the betterment of the community.
For Irwin, success is defined by the impact of his efforts and how that impact is sustained over time. “When you’re a volunteer who truly cares about making a positive change, you recognize that you won’t always be around, so you’ve got to spend a great deal of your time and energy ensuring that your local partners agree with and can see your vision so they have that to guide implementation when you’re not around,” he says.
Looking back on the last few years, Irwin has a newfound appreciation for Dickinson’s global, useful liberal-arts curriculum. “It’s been tremendously useful for me, to think I was going to do this and end up doing it," he explains. "Classes I had like international relations, business and sociology have proved far more helpful to me in a practical sense than my required major courses. Having foundational knowledge across a diverse range of subjects makes a liberal-arts education extremely helpful in our current time where generalists are becoming increasingly sought after because of their abilities to connect ideas from a range of fields and see the bigger picture of how things all come together.”
To learn how you can get involved, visit Selfless Solutions.
Published February 19, 2020