April 11, 2016

We Can Change the World.


There is propaganda out there, everywhere, tugging at our heartstrings about everything that’s wrong with the world: the drowning polar bears, the lost puppies, the starving children in Africa.

It’s common, sadly, that when we see these commercials, we’re apt to change the channel. Sometimes we can’t handle the truth. Why does Sarah McLachlan make us cry so damn much?

Every day we stomp around with our smartphones and five-dollar Frappuccino’s, and we complain about the weather and gas prices and the fact we have to exercise. In doing so, we bulldoze over so many important issues. Recently, I began writing for a nonprofit called The Borgen Project and have learned valuable lessons about the world around us.

First, we’re not alone.

Duh. But do you ever take into account how everyone’s actions affect one another? I’ve denied a homeless person a dollar. I’ve ignored the Salvation Army representative ringing a bell outside Wal-Mart. I think, “I’m just one person. I’m in college. I’m broke. Other people will donate.” But we are all “one person.” I never stop to think that maybe too many of us think this way. We can freely choose how we spend our time and money, but I’m sure we’ve all felt a twinge of guilt when we don’t help. That’s one way we’re not alone, but this one isn’t as monumental.

I’ve seen countless homeless or helpless people in my community before, and I’ve seem to become complacent. This sight has become a norm. It’s gone from being: I wish I could help, to: this isn’t something strikingly new.

It was not until I traveled abroad for the first time that I realized that even if it it isn’t knew, it shouldn’t erupt a feeling of complacency within me, but rather a desire to help. When I noticed homelessness on the streets of Barcelona, it hit me that even a place much more magical and different from home could suffer from the same issues as back home, which is one of the reasons I decided to apply with The Borgen Project. I wanted to help, and not just with homelessness.

Right now, there are 589 million people in sub-Saharan Africa who live without electricity. On average, 1.8 million people die every year from diarrheal infections. There are six million children in India alone who do not receive an education. I’m going to stop spewing random statistics at you, but think about them for a second.

Second, we forget how lucky we are.

As I write this, I’m using my fancy laptop while sitting in an air conditioned room and drinking a hazelnut, white chocolate mocha latte, and I wish everyone could be this at peace with their lives.

But even though I’m living this peaceful life, I complain a lot. I complain about things that aren’t even worth complaining about. Some days I go the whole day without stopping to be thankful for everything I have or to admire everything I can do because of the life I was born into. I may never stop complaining, but what I hope to do more often is stop and think of how lucky I am.

One thing we could do to celebrate our privilege is help those less fortunate than us. We could volunteer, donate, or raise money; even just spreading the word about an issue, bill, or helpful nonprofit organization can have a ripple effect. When you’re having trouble falling asleep or have nothing to do on a lazy Sunday, try thinking about what you can do to help, and I promise you’ll surprise yourself with how much you can apply your awesomeness to help someone in need.

Third, there is always a way to help.

I chose an outlet within my expertise when I began interning with The Borgen Project. I fundraise, I write about poverty topics for their blog and magazine, and I contact members of congress by phone and email about passing bills that can help reduce poverty.

It’s not much. I wish I could do more. But it is something.

Maybe you’re a broke college kid who can’t afford to donate significantly to a cause. Maybe you work 40+ hours a week and don’t have time to volunteer. I promise you there are still ways you can help. Contacting members of congress—by phone, email, or even just by leaving a voicemail—can help get bills passed that can benefit impoverished communities. Fundraising for a cause, sharing information about amazing nonprofits on social media accounts, and creating awareness for issues are all simple ways we can assist those in need.

There’s a common misconception that 25 percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid, but in reality that number is less than one percent. Ending world poverty is beneficial to everyone involved. It creates new job markets, improves national security, and stops overpopulation. You are not a generic human being. You are capable of so much more than you realize, and you can use your amazing abilities to make the world a better place. We can do this.




Author: Julia Hettiger

Editor: Travis May

Photo: Flickr/Fibonacci Blue

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