How Do I Make a Difference?

It can be overwhelming. The reality of all the need in the world can be too much for us at times to know where to start, and we can find ourselves frozen in inaction, not knowing what to do.

I have always been encouraged by the story of David as he encountered Goliath. You might know it well. At a time when God’s people were overcome by the size of the enemy in front of them, God found them a hero. A kid from the farm who had no discernible attributes that would bring victory on the battlefield. There was nothing conventional about David and the way that he approached the giant that everyone else was afraid of. The armour didn’t fit, his background didn’t fit and more surprisingly, his level of faith didn’t fit that of the experienced soldiers around him.

He approached the situation with an understanding that the God he served was so much bigger than the giant problem before him. And so he stepped up – and won the battle.

If ever we need a remedy to inaction, this is it. If we can shift our focus from the problem in front of us, no matter how big it seems, to the God we serve that is the change of perspective required which can allow us to take the first step and leave inaction behind.

What Could Be

How do you measure potential?

How can you take something as it is and create an educated measurement of what it could be?

It seems almost impossible and I sense that we tend to err on the side of caution when we do this. To be honest most of our thinking around what could be in the future comes from what has happened in the past.

We drastically underestimate what we are capable of.

We drastically underestimate what those around us are capable of.

Is it possible that what we can achieve, the difference we can make and the impact we can have on others is being held back by fear?

Right in the middle of Ephesians, the author Paul, implores his readers to cast aside their ideas of what they think life should be like and begin to dream about what could be through the strength of God who’s ‘mighty power is at work within us’ and is able to ‘accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think’.

So what are you capable of?

OR perhaps a more practical question – what would you would do at work, in your relationships, in any area of life right now if you weren’t afraid.

That’s the first step to glimpsing what your potential is.

World’s Greatest Resource

What do you consider to be the worlds greatest resource. There is much debate about the value of certain items – would it be oil, gold, iron ore, lithium perhaps, what about water, air and sunshine? Ice cream? All seem to be pretty important, some more than others but which is the greatest resource available to us?

I don’t think it’s any of these. For me, it has to be people. We are told that there are now nearly 8 billion people on the planet. That is almost 8 billion resources, but more than that, individuals that carry with them such great value and incredible capacity. With 10% of the global population still living in extreme poverty then that is at least 10% that are not being able to reach their full, God given potential. When that happens, not only do the individuals miss out, but the rest of the world misses out on their creativity, ideas and ingenuity.

There is a question that haunts me.

“What if the cure to cancer was trapped in the mind of a child who hasn’t received an education yet?”

To me that talks about potential, of what is possible yet not accessible because not everyone is able to make their contribution. The sad thing is that there is so much that we can do to facilitate that and it starts with small actions. Little things that will go a long way to empowering those living in poverty.

We have some difficult issues as a world, but if we could get the most out of every person, I have no doubt we could overcome all of them.

What the Widow Gave

It’s a story that you may have heard dozens of times. Jesus was in the temple, watching people put money in the collection box. He was watching them give. That sounds really odd. But this was how it happened – it was in a place where people could see it and some people used it as an opportunity to show how great they were by giving big bundles of cash caused a commotion. At the same time, a poor widow approached the box and almost ninja like, drops in two coins. Most people would not have noticed because she wasn’t there for the applause of the masses and didn’t cause a ruckus.

Jesus noticed. He took time to highlight her action. He said that she ‘had given had given more than all of the others’ because she gave all she had to live on, whilst everyone else gave a tiny bit out of their surplus.

So what does that mean? What do we learn from that story?

Here’s what I think. Giving money out of surplus, when it doesn’t impact us financially either way, whilst a good thing to do, is not generosity. True generosity is costly. There’s an old saying, ‘give till it hurts’ which doesn’t paint generosity in a particularly positive light, but perhaps that is a good place to start. If you don’t know how much to give, give until you feel it, when it becomes a sacrifice – there is something deeply powerful about a sacrificial gift.

When Should I Give?

When is the right time to buy a house, or sell one? Should I invest in shares instead?

We think incredibly analytically about our money when it comes to the “serious” things in life. But there are other elements of finance and spending which don’t bring about too much thought and analytics. Like spending it on entertainment, going out for dinner, buying new clothes…

When we give money away, generally this falls into analytical, serious part of finance, which is how it should be. But often we consider if we give or how much we can give away, depending on how our income looks at that moment. There are even times throughout the year which are considered to be the time to give and be generous. Christmas is one of those times.

We try to watch the market to figure out the best time to buy and sell property, shares and other investments. Sometimes we can do something similar when it comes to giving, when is the best time to give? When should I be generous?

The real answer to that question is that generosity isn’t restricted to a certain time of year, or fluctuation of the market. Sure, these things can be helpful in that they provide a time and opportunity to give, but true generosity is a way of life. It is something that we live and breath. It becomes part of who we are and it starts as one intentional act. What is your intentional act of generosity?

Rights for all, except…

Written by Kelsie De Haan, Political Intern, Opportunity International Australia

Language is one of the most powerful tools that we can employ. Words have the power to build people up or to tear them down. They can be liberating, oppressive or bring about much needed change. That is why the discourse surrounding refugees and asylum seekers here in Australia is such a powerful one. This conversation upholds systems which abuse human rights and oppresses a vulnerable group of people and it needs to be recognised as such.

“Illegal immigrants”, “queue jumpers”, “boat people” and “potential terrorists” are just a few of the terms that have been used to describe asylum seekers and refugees. These terms have become interchangeable without anyone stopping to think about what they actually mean. They are used to portray this group of people as an enemy, an inconvenience and a threat. They are loaded with negative connotations, which can be used to manipulate the Australian public to hold particular prejudices. If we think of asylum seekers and refugees as law-breakers it dehumanises them and can shut off any compassion we would otherwise feel. It also allows those in power to deny the responsibility they have to uphold the rights of those seeking asylum in Australia. Instead, asylum seekers and refugees are positioned as a threat to Australian sovereignty and framed as a political issue not a humanitarian one.

The most blatant lie we are fed is that seeking asylum is illegal – it isn’t. Rather it is a basic human right outlined in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” The international community has time after time condemned Australian asylum seeker policy, deeming it an abuse of this basic human right, specifically the practices of indefinite mandatory detention, children in detention and the separation of families in detention. In fact, in 2012 Australia was found guilty of 143 violations of international law regarding their treatment of refugees. Further, Australia’s current approach costs $400,000 per-refugee, per-year and costs for running the offshore detention program between 2013 and 2016 cost $9.6 billion. We spend horrendous amounts on an oppressive and unjust system that violates human rights rather than using these funds wisely to ensure the protection of this vulnerable group.

But, rather than empathising and caring for refugees and asylum seekers who have had to flee their homes, we call them illegal and imprison them indefinitely. We treat them as criminals rather than victims and instead of protecting them, we physically and mentally abuse them.

How did we let it come to this? We underestimated the power of words. Dehumanising and threatening language is used to place these people outside of our scope of justice.  Asylum seekers and refugees have been placed outside of our moral boundaries, meaning we have been influenced to believe that fairness and justice don’t apply to them. We have been taught not to care.

With over 22.5 million refugees in the world, fleeing from war, persecution and violence, we need to expand our scope of justice again to include them. We need to care. Every day, 28,300 people are forced to flee their homes, running from war and persecution into systems of oppression and injustice. The refugee and asylum seeker threat is not to our national sovereignty, but the threat is to their wellbeing. Change is needed to ensure the safety and protection of these people; we need to ensure our government policy upholds the rights of this vulnerable group.

 

 

 

 

I Know My Rights

Written by Kelsie De Haan, Opportunity International Australia Political Intern

Everyone should have access to the most basic of rights. That much we can all agree upon and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights backs me up on that on. It outlines what people are entitled to simply by being born human. It also outlines the responsibility the state has to uphold the rights of their citizens and provides a guideline to moral and ethical behaviour.

In 2005, a report was released outlining the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) which demonstrates how rights and responsibility play out at a global level. One of the key components of this is the state’s right to sovereignty which is forfeited if they do not uphold their responsibilities to their citizens. For example, to protect them from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. It doesn’t stop there. Those who uphold the first responsibility are then given the added responsibility to help other states uphold it. Again, if they fail to prevent these atrocities or even perpetuate them, the international community assumes the responsibility to protect through intervention.

The right to sovereignty carries enormous responsibility to ensure the wellbeing of the citizens and we rightly expect this from our leaders. We readily criticise leaders who perpetrate human rights abuses and citizens pressure their own governments to take up the responsibility to intervene. For states to have the right to self-determination and self-government, first they must demonstrate their fulfilment of responsibility to promoting peace, protecting citizens and caring for the environment.

Somehow, things seem a little different at an individual level. The concept of responsibility tied to rights is often overlooked. We tend to be so quick to declare our rights and then dismiss our responsibilities. We expect the right to welfare as a citizen but we don’t like the responsibility of paying taxes – some even avoid paying tax and therefore impede on another’s right to receive adequate welfare. We love that we have the right to free speech, but are quick to shoot down other opinions that are different from ours – even attempting to silence through intimidation and violence. We revel in the right we have to live in freedom and safety but bemoan a speeding fine we receive when we put the safety of others at risk.

When we claim our individual rights without considering our responsibilities to those around us, it becomes very dangerous. It can lead to a place where the responsibility to respect another’s rights and protect their freedoms is overshadowed by the idea of ‘my rights over your rights’. Or in other words, ‘me first, you are not as important’. When this rhetoric is used, conflicting rights become the norm and solutions become less clear. It’s complicated. We see this daily in Australia where an individual’s right to seek asylum is in direct conflict with a state’s right to sovereign borders, or the right to free speech versus the right to live free of fear and hate speech, and even the pro-choice versus pro-life debate as it reflects the conflicting rights of a mother and her unborn child.

How do we justify privileging one person’s rights over another? It sounds awful when it gets stated like that, but we do it every day. I’m sure we would like to think that the ‘good guy’ always wins, but unfortunately it is more often the person with the most power who has their rights recognised and prioritised. When the responsibility to consider the needs of others is removed from the equation, conflicting rights are resolved through oppression of the disadvantaged by those in power. History shows us that oppression of a minority and the suppression of their rights appears to be the default setting, changing only when someone in a position of power draws attention to the injustice and allows an oppressed voice to be heard.

If being powerful is the prerequisite to exercising rights, this leaves women and children in a very vulnerable position. Fortunately, there are organisations like Opportunity International Australia and others whose sole purpose is to uphold their rights and empower them to a life free from injustice and poverty.  Yet for many other minorities, oppression and silencing of rights is a reality they face every day as a result of our reluctance to accept responsibility – responsibility to care for others, to make sacrifices for those in need, to listen to others and to simply be a responsible global citizen.

So, know your rights. Ensure that you have access to them. Make a stand for them. But don’t stop there. Know the responsibilities that you have because of your rights. Ensure others have access to their rights (no matter who they are or if you agree with all of their opinions), and make a stand for them. Use your rights to uphold those of others, not to oppress them.

Numbers Are Important.

I love a good story. If I can lose myself in and engage with someone’s journey, that speaks powerfully to me. But, in saying that, often we can underestimate the numbers behind each individual story.

For example, our recent history of the fight against poverty.

In 1970, we are told that there were 60,000 children under the age of 5, around the world, who died every single day, due to basic illness, malnutrition and other easily curable diseases. 60,000. It is unimaginable and heartbreaking; how could such a reality exist? I’m so grateful that at the time, people were motivated to act, and join those who were already taking action.

Fast forward 20 years to 1990, the figure was closer to 33,000 a day.

Another 20 years on, in 2010, it was down to 22,000.

Today that number is around 16,000 per day. Still unimaginable and heartbreaking, but it is a phenomenal improvement. Especially when you take into consideration the population explosion.

Globally, the population was at 3.6 billion people in 1970, which grew to 5.3 billion in 1990 and then 7.3 billion in 2015. The growth over the last 45 years has skyrocketed but the number of children under the age of 5 who are dying every single day has plummeted.

In other terms, it looks like this, 10% of the global population currently live in extreme poverty. 45 years ago it was over 60%, 12 years ago, it was 21% of the global population in extreme poverty. Generosity is winning.

We are making a difference. We are getting somewhere. I didn’t wake up this morning and discover poverty, as a world we have been fighting it for decades, centuries. We still have a way to go but we are in a much better place than we were – we just need to keep going.

As we get closer to the end of financial year, there has never been a better time to fight the injustice of poverty than right now. Opportunity International Australia provides mothers in India, Indonesia and the Philippines with small loans to build  businesses, put food on the table, send their kids to school, and work their way out of poverty. Be part of a hand up. A gift as small as $70 can be life-changing.

How to Ruin Your Whole Day

“Don’t read the comments.” It’s something I say frequently to my wife, especially when reading an article online on a topic that she cares about. Even just a short amount of scrolling through the comments is enough to ruin your whole day. People can be incredibly mean-spirited about any issue and are quick to come up with witty remarks to discredit and embarrass. It’s just easier and less taxing to not engage in it.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take my own advice and it just about did ruin my whole day. I was reading an article about Andrew Forrest and how he made the largest philanthropic donation in Australian history. $400 million. Unbelievable. To a number of different causes which is ultimately going to impact thousands, if not millions of people. This was a day to celebrate with joy and laughter. But then I read the comments.

Andrew was accused of many things and hatred was heaped on him about issues of tax evasion right through to grandstanding. All I felt was sadness. Now Andrew is a big boy, he can look after himself and I don’t think comments on the internet will have an effect on him, but my sadness was more about the state of our culture and how we respond to people doing good things. Again we see the pervasive tall poppy syndrome rearing its ugly head, as attempts are made to tear down anyone who shows any sign of leadership or a desire change the world. I hate that part of our culture. We complain about a shortage of strong leaders in politics and business, but we kill them off before they have a chance to develop. Surely there is a way we can foster an environment where we can develop strong leaders without expecting perfection or begrudging them when they are doing well.

No living person in the history of Australia has done anything like this. It is without precedence. But at the same time it is not an isolated event. There are a number of wealthy Australians who give consistently and generously, but they like to fly under the radar. We wish that they wouldn’t. Generosity is something that we should celebrate. The more we know about it the more we can celebrate it and normalise it. The hope is that because Andrew and Nicola Forrest have opened up about what they are choosing to give away, others will begin to do the same. The more we can normalise generosity, the more generous we will become and that is how we change the world.

 

Tension

How do we function as people after seeing some of the things this world has to offer? Many have seen such devastation and experienced trauma beyond what can be articulated. For some it is a daily experience, for others it is an occasional glimpse which jolts the brain for a while.

In relation to poverty, we all know it exists but when we are not confronted with it regularly it is so far removed from our daily life that it has little to no impact on our thought process. If you have ever travelled to a developing country and been exposed to those living in extreme poverty, or spent time with the homeless in Australia, then no doubt you will be struck by the contradiction that we live in each day. I recently spent some time in the Philippines and I was confronted by the gut-wrenching conditions that people find themselves in. I walked through a few slums and something within me disconnected. For me to continue to function in that moment, surrounded by one of the things that I hate most, I held my breath and kept walking, lest I stop and become so overwhelmed by the devastation that I emotionally journey to a place that I can’t make it back from. That was my coping mechanism; I’m not proud of it but that’s what happened.

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In retrospect one of the hardest things to comprehend was this…

Poverty begets poverty. It sounds strange but it’s true. One of the main causes of poverty is…wait for it, poverty. If you are poor and don’t have enough food to eat today, it is most likely that tomorrow you will be poor and won’t have enough food to eat. Poverty is perpetually keeping people from working their way out of poverty.

It’s not just physical symptoms either. Poverty removes any sense of self-worth, any idea of what could be possible if the situation changed, any hope and dreams of what life could be like. It is the cruellest of task masters which only allows you to focus on survival for today, takes you hostage and keeps you captive in your current reality. How can you hope if your experience has never given you anything to hope for? How can you dream if you have never been taught to?

This is what life looks like for 767 million people living on less than $1.90 a day. Can you imagine what could happen if all of these people were empowered to reach their full potential. We have all witnessed the force of one or two people who are thriving and creating an amazing life for themselves and others around them. Imagine that multiplied by 767 million.

If we are honest with ourselves, we would all recognise that any success that we have achieved in life has only come about because someone invested in us and allowed us to believe that we could. Be it a parent, relative, teacher, peer, etc. For many it would most likely be more than one person, in fact a number of people at different times. Not to mention the head start of receiving nutrition, education and an opportunity for recreation. All of this adds up to a great head start, which is what we can offer to those living in poverty.

Poverty begets poverty, unless a hand up is given.