When senior Kenny Loo gave 100 disposable cameras to UCI students and friends traveling abroad last summer, it wasn’t because he wanted their vacation photos. Rather, Loo wanted them to turn the cameras over to local kids to capture close-up views of life in foreign countries. Loo’s purpose? To share the images with Orange County youths, many of whom, he says, are underexposed to different people and places.

Since then, Loo has received about 1,000 pictures from around the world, including China, South Korea, Thailand, Chile, Costa Rica, India, Pakistan, Jordan, Nigeria and Uzbekistan.

“They range from men praying in Pakistan to kids playing in the streets of India,” Loo says. “They’ve made me think more about the world.”

The young photographers – many of whom had never held a camera before – were free to take pictures of whatever they wanted. And they did.

“Some rolls are more telling than others. One kid took a picture of everything in his house, and we have a whole roll of dogs in China.”

As the photos piled up in his student apartment, Loo noticed they had common themes: food and family.

“If you put all the pictures together, you notice a family is a family, whether here or someplace else,” he says. “They have the same close bonds.”

Loo’s camera project earned him a scholarship from the Donald A. Strauss Public Service Scholarship Foundation, established in 1997 as a memorial to the late Don Strauss, a Newport Beach business executive. The foundation awards $10,000 annually to 14 college juniors in California to carry out a public service project.

Loo used part of the prize to start an on-campus student organization, Images of Humanity, that’s helping organize a gallery of the photos as well as other projects “to connect American youth with the multitude of global experiences.” They’ve posted the photos on a Web site,www.imagesofhumanity.org, and Loo is working with other campus organizations to coordinate exhibits in local schools. He’s already displayed the photos during UCI’s International Education Week.

“We want to empower youth to think about the world, to genuinely empathize with other people, so they’ll act as global citizens,” he says. Loo, who graduated in June with a bachelor’s in political science, plans to pursue a doctorate in international relations and work as an advocate for human rights or development aid. He intends for Images of Humanity to continue after he leaves campus, with more photos and exhibits in coming years.

“I see this project as an educational tool,” he says. “It teaches that the world isn’t just a set of boundaries or statistics. It’s real people who have individual experiences, just like we do. If you look at these pictures, you almost feel you’ve walked in the shoes of someone totally different from you, in a different place. That experience is invaluable.”