Motivated to act by a greater purpose, Commerce School third-year Sami Kandil has been driven to improve lives across the globe since founding Blossom Together while still in high school in 2018.
What began as a sincere desire to help establish wells bringing fresh water to one area of Africa through his own humanitarian student organization has since expanded to also forge campaigns delivering food, medicine, clothing, and educational resources to multiple countries, and grown to become an official UVA student organization that also includes chapters at universities in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas.
Under the shared co-presidential leadership of Kandil and Vedat Dilek, Blossom Together has plans to launch its largest effort yet: coordinating with its out-of-state chapters to provide services in Benin, Mali, Uganda, and Guinea in the summer of 2022.
Kandil notes that significant interest to go abroad and lend a hand is resonating with others, which has swelled the group’s numbers on Grounds. “This past fall, we grew the UVA team to more than 60 students,” he says, pointing out that a large contingent represents pre-Commerce and pre-med students.
These two McIntire students are preparing for their ambitious year ahead, hoping to expand on their previous work and to continue partnering with other philanthropic groups, university chapters, and corporate partners interested in supporting a better living standard for people worldwide.
A Northern Virginia native and son of Turkish immigrants, Kandil attended Pinnacle Academy for high school while simultaneously earning credits at Northern Virginia Community College as a full-time dual-enrollment student. During that time, he recalls how a couple from Burkina Faso joined his family for dinner, and relayed both the poor living conditions and an opportunity to better the situation for many there by establishing relatively inexpensive water wells.
Kandil and his friends set to work, and began raising funds at the local level to forge a pathway to Burkina Faso. After contacting Horizon Education International School in Ouagadougou with an email written in Turkish, explaining Blossom Together’s intentions, he established a partnership. Collecting nearly $10,000 in donations, he led a team of six volunteers who met their goal, traveling to Burkina Faso in the summer of 2018, where they established wells in Dédougou, Koudougou, and Saponé.
He says that traveling with the team to reach Dédougou and seeing that first well function was one of the most rewarding experiences he’s had so far.
“With an up-and-down motion of the pump, clean, cool water started gushing out of the well. There were about 100 curious villagers surrounding us during the opening, and once the water began flowing, I remember as the curious gazes were replaced with laughter and singing and dancing,” he says, noting that the team was hosted for dinner before driving back to Ouagadougou. “Through Blossom Together, I had the opportunity to work towards—and reap the sentimental rewards of working towards—a purpose greater than myself.”
Yet that accomplishment was only the beginning.
Kandil recalls how Blossom Together’s initial aim of setting up wells lasted only during the first few of months after its start. “We wanted to engage in broader humanitarian services. Our first year, we opened three water wells, distributed food packages, and distributed school uniforms and supplies—totaling over $30,000 in funds.”
During the organization’s second year, Kandil graduated from high school and returned to Burkina Faso with another member to teach English to middle and high school students for five weeks. The two were also responsible for helping to supply food packages to local communities.
By the following year, the pandemic halted their ability to travel abroad, but Kandil made sure to do what he could. Once again, they raised nearly $30,000 to supply packages of beef to rural northern Burkina Faso and offered virtual English lessons to middle and high school students through Zoom.
By 2022, the organization reached out to Embrace Relief, a nonprofit in Bamako, Mali, partnering with their clinic to help fund cataract surgeries, as many in the country suffer from the disease. Dilek says that as many of Blossom Together’s members are pre-med students, the cause was championed by those interested in its medicine-related initiatives.
Dilek adds that Blossom Together’s work in Mali gave him the unique opportunity to join the partner clinic’s surgeon in the operating room, where he saw firsthand how bettering the lives of others changed his own as well.
“We funded over 100 cataract surgeries in the region, from which people of all ages benefited. Gearing up and witnessing the entire process were moving moments, making me realize how as little as a $100 could recover the sight of so many. I would speak with the patients in line for the surgeries each day, smiling and sharing their excitement,” he says. “I not only enjoyed a new global experience, but also made a difference in the lives of others.”
Heading a large-scale student-led operation, Dilek says that leading Blossom Together has instilled critical teamwork, communication, and networking skills reinforced by his McIntire experience—and vice versa.
“I have constantly pushed myself while co-leading the humanitarian effort. Blossom Together has trusted me with extensive responsibilities, encouraged me to take initiatives, and trained me through constant pitching to various donors, from the Rotary Club to the Maestro Corporate Group. Such exposure has allowed me to leverage relevant skills with my academics at McIntire,” he says.
Being able to interact seamlessly among diverse groups has been an important byproduct of the philanthropic efforts, says Kandil. “My work with Blossom Together immersed me in an entirely different global environment, allowing me to communicate and coordinate with people of different backgrounds and languages. At McIntire, we learn the importance of understanding the dynamics and complexities of the international landscape,” he says, pointing out that Blossom Together functions in exactly those areas.
With a growing team of UVA students and its out-of-state chapters poised to continue joining campaigns abroad, Kandil and Dilek plan to bring aid by working in Benin, Mali, Uganda, and Guinea.
“In Benin, Blossom Together will be opening water wells that are expected to be in operation for the next 10 to 15 years,” Dilek says. The group expects to return to Mali in order to fund and assist in cataract surgeries with its partners at the Clinic Gaoussana Fofana in Bamako, and help support the distribution of food packages in rural areas of Uganda, before departing for the West African coastal nation of Guinea.
“We will fund the 30-year maintenance costs for our very own multifaceted water system,” he explains, pointing out that they are hoping to visit all four countries during early August, to assist in the effort. But it in no way signals the final initiative before the two co-presidents prepare for their final year at McIntire.
“By the fall of 2022, we will have drawn up our new goals and will begin working to complete them,” Kandil says assuredly.