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Sophomores create task force, address global poverty

Marcela Berrios | Friday, November 3, 2006

Every year Notre Dame admits motivated freshmen with higher SAT scores and longer lists of extracurricular activities than their predecessors – and that motivation was also manifested last year when a group of freshmen taking an introductory peace studies course decided to do more than the homework.

They started a movement that hopes to, in short, help eradicate poverty and fulfill the other United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

The ambitious group calls itself the MDG Task Force.

Last weekend it sent four of its members to attend the “Point 7 Now!” conference in San Francisco, which derived its name from its campaign to increase the developed countries’ foreign aid to 0.7 percent of their national incomes.

The conference sought to mobilize the Catholic community to fight against worldwide poverty by bringing together renowned scholars and experts, including Cardinal Renato Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in The Vatican.

Another prominent speaker was Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the U.N. Millenium Project and a special advisor to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Sachs also spoke at the Notre Dame Forum earlier this year, outlining the eight goals that all 191 member states vowed to try to achieve by 2015 – which include the eradication of extreme poverty, the improvement of universal primary education, the reduction of child mortality and the end of the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

Sophomore Joella Bitter, president of the MDG Task Force, said the group plans to contribute to the advancement of these proposals by educating the Notre Dame community about the importance of these initiatives and aligning universities across the nation in MDG efforts.

During the conference Sachs said there were 300 million people in Africa who could protect themselves from the malaria mosquito if they had bed nets during the night – and the Task Force thought Notre Dame students should know that, Bitter said.

“There are 300 million people living in the United States,” she said, “and 300 million people in Africa who need these bed nets.

“Imagine how many lives could be saved if we each bought a bed net for someone there.”

Bitter said the MDG Task Force was preparing a bed net fundraiser this winter that would allow students to purchase a bed net through the Millenium Project organization and receive a certificate and the name of the African recipient.

It would be a beautiful Christmas present for someone, but the MDG Task Force’s plans to impact global poverty stretch beyond the holidays.

The conference gave the MDG Task Force the opportunity to meet students from other Catholic universities who were working on similar initiatives – and the idea to organize fundraisers and events in synchrony arose.

Bitter said that if there is a national breast cancer awareness month and a national LGBTQ awareness month, there could easily be a month to educate people about global poverty and health problems in underdeveloped countries – if enough people across the country support the MDG efforts at the same time.

In its early development stages, the MDG Task Force sought guidance in more established organizations, such as Middlebury College’s Mid 8, a student club that works also towards the accomplishment of the U.N.’s eight Millenium Development Goals.

Bitter said the MDG Task Force intends to maintain contact with these and other students from the University of San Francisco, Georgetown University and Santa Clara University, among others present at the conference.

“We came back from San Francisco with a strong sense of solidarity, and we want to collaborate with other universities to make this a nationwide movement, but we also want to work with other clubs and organizations on campus,” Bitter said. “These are global issues, and there is a role for everybody.”

Sophomore MDG Task Force vice president Ashley Mayworm said that everybody, from political science to Film, Television and Theatre to electrical engineering students, should participate in the upcoming letter-writing campaign and visits to Indiana senators’ offices to actively inform them they support MDG proposals.

“Pushing legislation that promotes the Millenium Development Goals is really the only way in which the federal government will dramatically improve its foreign aid policies,” Mayworm said.

In its year of promoting economic justice worldwide, the Center for Social Concerns (CSC) sponsored the MDG Task Force’s San Francisco visit, in conjunction with Campus Ministry and the College of Arts and Letters, which gave Bitter, Mayworm and their teammates the “Learning Beyond the Classroom” grant.

Rosie McDowell, the director of Student Outreach for Service and Social Action in the CSC, said she was impressed by the MDG Task Force’s drive and initiative, and that upon hearing the stellar list of participants at the Point 7 Now! Conference – which the CSC partly sponsored – she helped the students obtain the financial support they needed and accompanied them to California.

“The speakers at the conference were all engaging and dynamic – and they knew what they were talking about,” McDowell said. “They were all experts in international relations, economics or Catholic studies, or they were people who had worked with those living on less than a dollar a day.

“It was a brilliant opportunity for the students to hear them and learn from their experiences to understand the reality of those who live in poverty and what the Gospel calls us to do about them.”