I attended a conference this weekend, its main purpose being to address the Millennium Development Goals put in place by the UN and to inspire student networking for organizations working to contribute to the achievement of those goals. While I have never been a socially active person, at least not outwardly so, as I began my studies at JWU, I suddenly found myself investigating the status and current operations of our agricultural industries and food systems (distribution and production). It was the illumination of how this specific part of our world operates that completely shifted my interest, to the operations of all aspects of the world (although the majority of my focus remains in the U.S.). Becoming aware of these issues, and feeling surprisingly passionate about them, has slightly piqued my interest in societal involvement.
The first workshop I attended at the conference was titled “Africa: Perceptions and Reality”, and the discussion that occurred there revolved repetitively on the fact that we feel so ill-informed. That, because of the inadvertent messages we receive on a daily basis, most of us have ended up classifying the entire population of “Africa” into a single people. Malnourished, sick with malaria and HIV/AIDS, desperate for clean water, living in thatched huts and tribal environments. This is obviously not the whole truth, as told by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:
The single story is a novel concept to me, but it lingers in all aspect of my life, more so than I care to admit. As the session was concluding, one of the visiting professors chimed in with an urge to READ. To not accept any single news story, but to seek out a variety of sources to accumulate a comprehensive coverage. He pointed out directly to Mother Jones, which of course, I will now be taking a closer look at.
I also heard, more than a few times, about how necessary it is to interact directly and receptively with communities receiving aid. It’s a rather simple concept, that the best way to assist most effectively would be to engage and inquire, to determine what the recipient needs most based on what they request. But that’s not how the system really works these days. Instead, organizations will go in with their minds set: “we’re going to send some foreign volunteers to build a school, and then bring in more foreign volunteers to teach kids”, and as a result are contributing to a dependence on foreign aid rather than empowerment which would foster self-sustainment. That’s a decent point, isn’t it?, and it has a lot to do with this “single story” concept. That the communities are not capable of assisting themselves, given proper funding, and an external source needs to come in and provide it all themselves.
Another thing: personal choices matter.
Without being actively involved, there are still ways to be actively involved. Every dollar has incredible power. Either it goes to purchasing some processed food item (primarily composed of corn, contributing to the dependance on pesticides, and in turn polluting the farm land and environments surrounding it), or it can go to a bunch of beets from a farm the next state over which relies on more natural growing techniques. Either it goes to purchasing a cheap accessory produced by factory workers [almost anywhere] in Asia or it can go to a cooperative which directs a much larger percent of the profit to the actual producer. We are used to certain standards and trends that could never allow the complete redirection of purchases to organizations like these, but perhaps gradual shifts can occur, relying on sources such as reweave for alternative and more responsible products, the likes of clothing, jewelry, belts, coffee, tea, chocolate, etc.
I am going to take a stand and say that the most important message came from Nancy Lindborg of USAID, who insisted that we, of the millennial generation, are most inherently equipped to “be the change you wish to see in the world” (sorry for using such a cliché). If I am to understand history correctly: societies have progressed from existing with only the knowledge of themselves, to the awareness of others (and the subsequent colonization and exploitation carried out by authority’s orders), to global interaction between all citizens – which is gradually gaining way in today’s world. I grew up with easy access to hundreds of channels on the television, an innumerable amount of publications and news sources, and now, social media which allows for conversation with people all over world and from varying degrees of social status.
These developments mean that my natural mode of functioning is to seek assorted and indiscriminate opinions and attitudes that lead to my own informed conclusions. We have access to so much more information, to really understand the current operations locally and globally, therefore we can move forward in respectful and constructive manners.
That is all. It was so inspiring to see these “youth leaders” dedicating their energies to making the world a better place. Hopefully that inspiration doesn’t fade too quickly 😉 and I look forward to discovering more events like this.
Thank you Millennium Campus Network, for putting this together each year, it was an honor to be present.