Oct. 5, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
Former South Carolina middle distance runner Alex Sullivan is going the extra mile to try and help people he will likely never meet. Sullivan graduated last May with a degree in international business from South Carolina’s prestigious Moore School of Business, but since March, he has been a big contributor with his time for the non-profit organization, Project Cyma, which aims to assist people in West Africa in finding alternatives to recruitment by violent extremists and preventing terrorism before it can exist.
“Having an international business degree means I can go into a lot of different areas,” Sullivan said. “Up until I saw this, I wasn’t sure what area I was going to get into. When I saw this, a ‘light bulb’ went off, and I knew it was something I could be passionate about. It’s something I can feel really good about, and I know the outcome is going to be good.
“Cyma means ‘sprout’ in Latin. The intent is to create a non-profit that can help spread opportunities for these people who are being affected so seriously in Nigeria. Our short-term goal is to build more awareness of what is going on. Then we hope to move forward and carry on with programs that address those issues.”
The organization was created in early 2016 by fellow South Carolina alumna, Meghan Conroy (2014), who works as a counter-terrorism analyst in Washington, D.C., and made an appeal on social media for South Carolina students to get involved.
“She had posted a group on Facebook for students at the University of South Carolina and asked for help to get things started,” Sullivan said. “I saw it and thought it was a very interesting opportunity. We are teaming up with the American university in Nigeria for a program called Peace Through Sports. We’re trying to give these people in Nigeria an opportunity. Many kids in this part of Nigeria don’t get to go to school because of the violence. We’re giving them an opportunity to get away from the violence and also to build skills, get an education and build unity among themselves as well.”
“We are trying to give the people impacted by Boca Haram in Nigeria the tools to succeed long term,” Conroy said. “Peace Through Sports identifies vulnerable young people in the area and provides peace and conflict resolution workshops and conducts various training sessions as well as sporting events to give young people other options other than being recruited by Boca Haram. Many people there have no job prospects or educational opportunities that can lead to job prospects.”
Most of the community service I did at South Carolina was with the track and field team. They do a good job there of getting us involved.
Project Cyma is providing Peace Through Sports with Wi-Fi capable tablets that are solar powered and pre-loaded with pertinent information for the people there that can be used even after the program is over.
Sullivan’s volunteer work has led him to becoming the vice president of strategic development for the organization, which is seeking 501c3 non-profit status, and giving of himself is something that was reinforced during his days as a student-athlete.
“Everyone is doing this on their own dime,” Sullivan said. “Most of the community service I did at South Carolina was with the track and field team. They do a good job there of getting us involved so we can help out kids in the area. It helped me to see the good things you can do by working with children and the impact you can make on them. It definitely showed me that this was a worthwhile effort to pursue.”
“It speaks volumes about his character and the amount time and effort and care he has put into this since March,” Conroy said. “He’s been a huge part of the development of this organization and the direction that we’re going. His ability to multi-task is insane. In spite of everything he’s had going on, he has found a balance where he can do this and stand out. He works on social media, maintains the web site, and he spear-headed the fundraiser that we just started. He’s done a ton of research on Boca Haram and other violent groups.
“He’s always asking me, what more can I do. He has so many ideas on how to help. He’s been a game changer for this organization.”
Sullivan plans to attend graduate school next year as he begins work on his master’s degree in Global Studies and International Relations at Northeastern University in Boston. In the meantime, he may be already laying the groundwork for his professional calling.
“I would love the opportunity for this to be something I could do as a career,” Sullivan said.
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