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Being ONE of Many

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post on October 14.

Growing up, my view of what charity and humanitarian work looked like was a very vivid TV commercial in which there were shots of starving children in the slums with a large 1-800 number flashing at the bottom of the screen telling me I can save lives with either Visa or MasterCard. It wasn't until a U2 concert in high school that my eyes were pried back open to the crisis of extreme poverty and global AIDS by an Irish rock star named Bono.

Halfway through the show he made an extremely moving speech, had the Pepsi Center turn off the lights, and asked everyone to text to this thing called the ONE Campaign in order to add our voices to the anti-poverty movement. The true inspiration to get involved didn't kick in right there though, only weeks later, after receiving emails detailing some statistics of global poverty, did I decide to act. 1 billion people live off less than a dollar a day, 300 million of them are Africans. Every day in Africa, 6,600 people die from HIV/AIDS. Every minute, five children die of AIDS. the statistics went on but I was already appalled, how did I not know about this? Why when I turned on the news was this not the breaking story?

My volunteer work for the ONE Campaign began in January of 2006 in the form of getting local cities to pass proclamations declaring their support for ONE and its goals. Specifically, urging our government to keep the promises President Bush made at the G8 conference in 2005, at which he pledged an additional 1% of the U.S. budget to go toward humanitarian efforts. This promise was a response to the Millennium Development Goals set at the G8 in 2000. The cities of Louisville, Boulder, Broomfield, Ft. Collins, and Denver are all now officially Cities of ONE, allying themselves with the anti-poverty movement. The State of Colorado's senate also declared Colorado to be a State of ONE in the summer of 2006.

The hardest part out of all of that was getting Denver on board. With most city council meetings I just arrived for the citizen comment section of the meeting and asked them to consider the proclamation I was submitting to them at a future meeting, which usually worked out fine. The Denver City Council meetings only have certain dates for citizen input because they would never be able to get through the docket otherwise. To even be able to propose the idea it would require a council member's sponsorship. It took several months of emailing and calling to get one of the members to take it up, eventually I asked Councilman Rick Garcia and he was very excited to sponsor a ONE Proclamation.

His staff drafted the proclamation and the council soon passed it. It was an experience that taught me that persistence pays off, even if that persistence has to last through several months of bad luck. The hardest thing about doing humanitarian work at a government level is that it's hard to keep up your energy. You go through highs and lows, sometimes hearing a really good speech or sermon that drives you to get every single city in the world to pass a proclamation against poverty, and other times you'll work and work on an event and not as many people show as you were expecting, it's very hard to get back up and try again.

I'm recovering from such a low right now actually, over the past few months I've hardly done any volunteer work, a busy summer mixed with graduation from high school left my motivation level at an all time low since that U2 concert. Now with college starting, that energy level is coming back up as I see so many opportunities for my new campus to get involved and make a difference. But it is very hard to maintain a high energy level about issues that takes so long to make progress on. Don't get me wrong, we've come a long way since even 2005, but there is so much more that lies before us in the goal of halving extreme poverty (living off less than a dollar a day), and slowing the spread of AIDS by 2015.

This is where you come in. As a citizen of this country to have the obligation to tell the people representing you how to spend your money and what is important to you. The easiest way to do that right now is to get on a computer and go to ONE.ORG. You can take the first step by signing the ONE Declaration, get your friends to sign it, get your church involved and hold a service on how faith calls us to serve the poor. There are so many ways for you to spread the word and open peoples eyes to what's happening around the world. As Bono says, "This is not about charity, it's about justice." We're not asking for your money, this campaign is about using your voice to make a difference in the world around you and I urge you to use yours today.

Matthew McAllister
ONE Volunteer

Matthew McAllister is a freshman at CU – Boulder. He has been volunteering for the ONE Campaign for three years and hopes to make social justice part of his career after college. mcallister2011@gmail.com

 

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