Was my cause not worthy of people’s notice? Did people doubt if the work we were doing was beneficial? Where was the outcry for the injustice being displayed in Zambia? I would tell myself: if only they could see what was going on in Zambia, and the work we were doing there; people would not be able to disregard the struggle before their eyes. I started pointing my finger at people without realizing; I was pointing three fingers at myself with the same hand. My frustration became a roadblock to me putting myself in their shoes. Once my initial frustration faded, I began to see more clearly. I came to the realization that before I ever went to Zambia, the Zambian people, and their struggles had never crossed my mind. In fact, I would have been hard-pressed to point Zambia out on a map.
The fall of 2006 I was in the preparatory stages of getting ready to go to Zambia in the spring on a mission trip. We would be working with children from varies parts of the region that were in need; bringing supplies and organizing activities for some much needed fun. At first, I was unsure if the trip was even going to happen because we were just a team of young college students. However through hard work and perseverance, our group (The International Peace Initiative), fundraised enough money to get us half way there. Each of the eleven members, individually, would have to raise the other half, totaling $1,000 in expenses.
I was not only hopeful that I could raise the money on my behalf, I was confident that I would have no struggles achieving this goal. I wrote my own fundraising letter indicating what I would be doing while in Zambia, and sent it to 300 people who I had a personal connection with. These individuals were family members, friends, colleagues, classmates, and many others. I spoke to student organizations I was involved with on campus to advocate for my cause. I thought that because I was directly involved with Zambia and not a third party, that the people I sent my letter to and spoke in front of would be compelled to donate to my cause. My cause was not only to help disadvantaged children in need, but it also would spread peace and love. My devotion to my cause was unwavering, and I felt no one could turn a blind eye towards my compassion. However, I was sadly mistaken.
Out of the many people who I had asked to help, only four donated funds in support of my cause. Overall I was able to secure $40: A much smaller sum than I was supposed to raise on my behalf. I was disappointed, but this shortcoming would not prevent me in trying other ways to get the money needed. So I picked up extra shifts at my father’s pizzeria, delivering pizza and picking up as many tips as possible. After many months of hard work, I was able to save up the money to go to Zambia, and to do what we had planned for all year.
That spring, I went to Zambia and it was more than I could ever expect. Not only did we have a positive impact on the children we worked with, Zambia had an instrumental impact upon my own life. The cause was bigger than I could have ever imagined, and today I continue to advocate for those in Zambia whenever possible. The trip caused me to want to dedicate as much of my free time to service and philanthropy regardless if it involves Zambia or not. My experiences there still bring tears of sadness and joy to my eyes whenever I am reminded of the children we worked with in Zambia. These experiences also made me question why people were not willing to donate or give attention to my cause.
After getting little or no response to my cause, I was discouraged. I thought that it might not be worth the trouble of getting the word out if no one would listen. I lost hope that people really cared or had compassion, which made me determined to raise awareness for Zambia if no one else would. Then, almost a year later, I was given the opportunity to organize a service week for Greek-Lettered organizations at the University of Toledo. It was going to focus on hands on service, but also have a fundraising component that would be a competition. The last thing I wanted to do was ask for money. So I had to think of a unique way to do a fundraiser. Then I spoke to a colleague of mine who went to Zambia with me, and he gave me the angle that I was desperately searching for.
My colleague’s son was fundraising for soccer balls for the Zambian compound we worked at called Kafakumba. They would use the soccer balls to attract people to HIV/AIDS seminars and then hand them out afterwards. It would accomplish two things: the first being that the people of Zambia would get much needed information on HIV/AIDS, and they would receive soccer balls afterwards which were a rare commodity. I decided that I would speak in front of 1,400 students about my journey to Zambia. I did not prepare the speech, but instead spoke from my heart. I just told my story. No pointing fingers at governments, politicians, Westerners, or the student body. I spoke of what I saw, and showed pictures and videos of the children we worked with.
To this date, it was the best speech that I have ever given. Not because I was an expert public speaker, in fact I am far from it. It was because my story was genuine and touched the students I spoke in front of. I remember there was laughter when I showed them a video of me dancing and singing with the children. There were gasps of shock when I told them of a village of orphans that we visited. And there were smiles of joy when I showed a video of the talented children in Zambia singing and dancing in their native tongue. It was an emotional roller coaster that left the crowd wanting more.
At the end of the speech I told the students that I did not want their money. Instead I told them that we would be fundraising for new and used soccer balls and whatever organization raised the most, would be crowned champions of the service week. I would not even accept monetary donations whatsoever. Anyone could participate in the fundraising because even if they did not have money to buy a new soccer ball, they could bring in a used one. It was a tangible item, which the students could actually see get to its destination, to be placed in the hands of those who needed them. I would have my colleagues take pictures and videos of the Zambians getting the soccer balls and show that footage to the students one year later at the same event. We encouraged the students to even write good will messages on the soccer balls when they donated them.
I was hoping for 50 soccer balls so that I could give a respectable donation to my colleague’s son. However, to my surprise we collected over 475 soccer balls. There were so much in fact that I literally had to climb over my desk to get to my chair because there was a mountain of soccer balls blocking the way. What did I do right this time? I realized that instead of pointing fingers at the people not listening, I had to change my approach. I needed to educate people, make it relevant to them, and make sure that they could get something out of it. A soccer ball was a tangible item where they could literally see the effects of their donation. To create a lasting impact, my experience in Zambia could not be a one and done deal, but instead I had to use my experience to do more good than before.
There are many humanitarian dilemmas across the globe. There are natural disasters, genocides, war, orphans, homelessness, poverty, diseases, and many more worth mentioning. All these dilemmas deserve the utmost attention, just as Zambia does. If we really want to bring attention to a cause, we need to make it relevant. We need to come with love and compassion, and leave frustration and bitterness behind. There are many causes that are pulling people’s attention in every direction, but many times if the cause is not relevant to them it will fall to the waste side. Try to make it relevant to people, educate yourself so that you can then educate them. Try to leave politics out of it. We need to empower people in need as well, so that they can bring about change for themselves. We cannot alone bring about the changes that they desire. However, what we can do is be compassionate and loving towards them and lead by example.
It is extremely important to help support those who are suffering from injustice. It would be naïve of us to think that an injustice that occurs in a different part of the world has no effect on us. We are a global community that has been connected through social media and more accessible access to travel. We are also connected by a global economy, which in recent years this link has been made more evident through our own economic difficulties. I believe that an injustice to one is an injustice to all. I also realize that there will be those who criticize a cause to help those abroad, when there are so many problems occurring here in our own country. My answer to them: we can help to support both. We live in a country where we have the resources and the means to not only help those around us, but to also help those abroad. I have done service locally, nationally, and abroad over the past six years. We need to stop deviating attention from a particular cause because it is one of many injustices that occur around the world.
Those who seek to bring positive change in the world must begin with themselves. In the spirit of Mohandas K. Gandhi, “we must be the change that we want to see in the world.” Once that is accomplished, we can seek to advocate our causes to and for others. Many are discouraged because sometimes they want to reach thousands, when they can only reach a few. I would encourage them to not lose heart. For to change one mind, is to change the world. That one person you have reached may go out and try to do the same and thus a domino effect will occur. We hope to reach as many people as possible with our cause, but if you can only reach one, it could be the start of a chain reaction that could change the world. We must be the ambassadors of truth and justice. The truth is the truth, whether or not it is popular, you must be true to yourself.
With many injustices occurring around the world, we need creative approaches for getting the word out about those in need. All injustices deserve attention, but it is up to us to shine the light on them. We must not depend on governments, politicians, or media to make the right choice. We must make it so that the governments and politicians have no other choice but to do what is right. Money will always be a component of service, but it is not even close to being the most important. We must realize that money can do wonders for a cause, but it can also cause controversy and havoc. We must all remember when we think of pointing our fingers at people while advocating for a cause, three fingers are pointing back towards us in response. We have to try three times as hard to bring awareness to the causes we are advocating for. Avocation for a cause begins with you so decide to take action, and you will never be the same for the better.
Edited by Casey Maxwell