one letter at at time
Thanks to everyone who came out to last night's Congo Benefit. We raised over $1000 to help fund the construction of an orphanage in Goma.
Speaking to the mostly college-aged crowd last night, I was reminded of how overwhelming the world's problems can seem, especially to someone who's encountering the reality of extreme poverty and suffering for the first time. It's easy to feel like you can't make a difference that will really change things. So one thing I always encourage groups to do is to find a way that they can make a small difference. It's true that no individual can "fix" a place like the DRC's problems, but it's also true that any of us can make a huge difference in one person's life, through something as simple as donating $1 to prevent an infant from contracting HIV from his or her mother at birth.
That said, though, I still believe that most of world poverty is based in structural issues. A child can't take advantage of educational opportunities if she can't afford to go to school. A farmer can't keep his family healthy and fed if he can't get a fair global market price for his produce. A country can't rebuild its economy without debt forgiveness, which cripples workers and makes it almost impossible to escape poverty.
This spring there's a great opportunity for all of us who are interested in attacking problems of global poverty from both a personal and a structural standpoint. Bread for the World is sponsoring its annual Offering of Letters, an effort to get people of faith to write letters to their elected officials in support of a poverty reduction goal. This year's focus is increased American support for the Millenium Development Goals (MDG's), a broadly agreed-upon set of targets for global poverty reduction. The MDG's include things like reducing child mortality, ensuring that all children have the chance to get a primary school education, and combating HIV/AIDS and other diseases like malaria.
The idea behind the Offering of Letters is that churches will organize their members to write letters to their elected officials advocating for these goals. To make that easy, Bread has organized a series of training workshops for lay leaders and ministers who want to guide their congregations through this effort.
The Austin workshop is this coming Tuesday evening, February 12, at St. David's Episcopal Church, at 7th and Trinity downtown. I'll be speaking briefly at this event, both about my experiences in the Congo and as a Senate intern. Those letters, you see, really do make a difference - Congressional offices keep tallies on the subjects of communications they receive, and if an issue is important to constituents, it often has a way of becoming important to a member of Congress who's seeking re-election.
These workshops are a great opportunity to learn more about advocating for the poor. They are held all over the country. If you're interested in attending the free Austin workshop, RSVP here. To find a workshop near you, check out this calendar.
What can one person do to effect structural change? More than you might imagine. Consider being part of Bread for the World's 2008 Offering of Letters, and make a difference for billions of people who live in poverty worldwide.