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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Nithy, man with one plan: help others


There is a man on campus that few people know, except by face, who will call you "friend," even if he's only met you once. He isn't campaigning for anyone or anything, nor is he trying to sell you anything -- he's just interested in you as a human being.

S.R. Nithy (pronounced Neat - ie), assistant director for the International Student Organization, has traveled from poverty stricken Malaysia to MSU by means of determination, heart and soul, but he'll tell you the goodwill of others has taken his journey this far.

His office is speckled with pictures of people he has met along his journey, books and inspirational materials that keep him going and flags and patches marking countries Nithy biked across.

Born in Malaysia, Nithy came from poor conditions. By age 12, Nithy worked to pay for private schooling that he and six other applicants were accepted to out of a graduating class of 300 people.

But it was Nithy's parents who tried to deter their son from going to the private school, not because they didn't want him to go, but because they were afraid they couldn't afford to send him from home to school, 15 cents one-way.

"I remember them saying to me, 'Please don't do it 'cause we have no money to send you there,'" Nithy said.

But Nithy went anyway, working long hours in a bike shop to earn a quarter a day. Fortunately for Nithy, the owner gave him a bicycle so he could ride to work and school, which allowed Nithy to save his money.

"I still remember the day I asked my mom for 10 cents and she gave me 10 cents and the bus fare one-way to school, 14 miles away, was 15 cents," Nithy said. "Walking to the bus I wondered, 'Will I get my fare today?'"

Nithy did get his fare from his father, who only had a nickel in his pocket.

Nithy didn't think he possessed the intelligence to do much more, as he said he always thought being smart was for rich people.

"I thought only the rich kids were smart and the poor students were stupid," Nithy said. "That's what I felt, so I said, 'You know what?' My parents think I'm only stupid because we're poor, so they never really inspired me about school very much. But in school I was always very active in sports."

Nithy also kept himself active in helping other students. He helped organize fundraising to help students with uniform costs and travel expenses.

"You know what ended up helping me?" Nithy said. "I ended up getting involved by helping other students in my same situation, helping them with my money, collection money from students because it was a very wealthy school."

With his confidence lacking in academics, Nithy graduated from high school and went to work in a shipyard, where he met many foreign people.

"We worked long, long hours and I'm 19 and skinny like a stick," Nithy said.

He said his coworkers encouraged him to come aboard the ships, and they teased him saying he would be smoking cigarettes and drinking in three months -- foreign ships always gave the workers alcohol and cigarettes when the crews came on board to clean the ships. According to Nithy, this is the gesture to the workers made by the chief officer.

"I had this temptation, either take it or leave it, and you know what, I didn't take one pack of cigarettes and I haven't smoked to this day," Nithy said. "And I've never touched alcohol yet in my life."

One night while working in the shipyard, Nithy rested on the ground, looking at the stars, and a question popped into his mind, "will this be my life forever?"

From there, Nithy confided in a friend that he didn't want to be like the rest of the workers, and he left the shipyard for a new journey.

After encountering a lawyer and spending time saving money, Nithy went back to school. He eventually passed a test allowing him to go to law school but he didn't go. He couldn't afford to pay for the schooling it would take to be a lawyer.

During his time in school, he befriended and helped a young lady from a wealthier family pass her entrance exam into the school, which proved to be a move that would become part of his journey.

"I went to the house and her mom said, 'Nithy, I've got a gift for you,' and that was the bike," a teary-eyed Nithy said.

The Bike

Nithy is well known around campus and across many other venues as the man who travels across country on a bicycle. He has finished 10 expeditions, the first coming in October of 1989 as part of an effort to bring awareness to drugs. The expedition, "Don't be victimized by drugs," was a success and a short time after, Nithy was approached to do another expedition to raise money for a school for the mentally handicapped, which he did.

The expedition, like most everything Nithy has done, was a success. It raised nearly $17,000 for the school.

Nithy has also ventured on numerous other expeditions, some crossing countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, Singapore, Nicaragua, Honduras and Argentina to name a few. He also has biked across the United States and done an America's trip that started in Argentina and ended in Minnesota.

In all of these trips, Nithy said the goal is to discover the humanity of other people.

"It's the bicycle expedition, it's the journey to meet humanity in a different situation," Nithy said.

On his America's expedition, Nithy said he met a man in Iowa that offered him money for food and told him of a place he could stay. At this place he met a construction worker who was so busy, he told Nithy in passing to make himself at home and eat whatever he liked.

"I left a note to him the next morning saying 'man, thank you for sharing, this is my address,' and I signed it, Keep pedaling man," Nithy said.

For Christmas that year, he received a card from this man who thanked him for the message. Nithy said the man told him the message, "keep pedaling," helped him by giving him strength to get through difficult times, just as Nithy had gotten strength as he biked across the Americas.

Walking quote board

Nithy credits many people for his success along the way and rarely acknowledges his own accomplishments, to which there is many. He has studied in Malaysia, Switzerland, South Africa and the United States. He has an undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota in Social Work.

Nithy has helped immigrant students find a place to call home in their pursuit of their dream to attend college through the "Studying for the Future" program he and Doug Ganss helped develop, and he has touched the lives of many people.

His father told him, "Be truthful to you own soul, it's the most powerful journey in life."

For Nithy, being truthful has meant being kind to others and living life each day as though tomorrow it might be gone.

"I know to make the world a better place is not the whole world of 6.2 billion," Nithy said. "It's the world I live right here in Mankato, Minn. I love my work, I love the community members here, the faculty members here. I love them because I only know I can make a difference right here. When I go to the next place, I will try to do the same."

To remind himself about life and what it takes to succeed, Nithy decorates his office with plants. He said he keeps plants in his office as a reminder of how he must work to maintain life.

"They bring natural beauty," he said. "I ask myself, if the plant dies, does this mean I'm not living myself."

Like most of what Nithy does, he looks first to see how he can help himself and others live to the fullest of their abilities.

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