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Katie Peralta | Monday, April 23, 2007

In its first year at Notre Dame, the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) task force has expanded beyond its foundation, attracting more than 80 students and looking forward to its upcoming MDG Awareness Week, set to kick off today and run through Friday, organizers said.

Sophomore Joella Bitter, president of the task force, said the Global Health Forum last fall and Notre Dame’s partnership with an Ugandan village helped spark interest on campus about the Millennium Project.

The United Nations (UN) commissioned the Millennium Project in 2002 to form a plan of action to carry out the Millennium Development Goals, which aim to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty around the world, Bitter said.

At Notre Dame, Bitter and her classmates – sophomores Ashley Mayworm, Jane Lee and Thomas Weiler – joined the effort after taking an introductory peace studies class last spring. Together they founded the task force, an ad-hoc group at the Center for Social Concerns inspired by similar groups at other universities, including Middlebury College’s Mid 8, she said.

The group, Bitter said, referred to the eight Millenium Development Goals the UN outlined, which include the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, universal primary education, gender equality and the empowerment of women, the reduction of child mortality, the improvement of maternal health, the advancement of the fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, environmental sustainability and a global partnership for development.

“We really aim to bring all goals together in a framework of sustainability,” Bitter said.

The UN set 2015 as the target year for the completion of the eight goals, which are focused on developing countries, especially those in Africa.

This week the task force hopes to raise awareness and appreciation among students and faculty for each of its objectives, focusing on one or a few of the eight goals each day of the week, Bitter said.

Monday will bring George Srour, the founder of Building Tomorrow, a nationwide initiative that encourages students to raise funds and awareness for the benefit of children in sub-Saharan Africa to campus to speak about his work in poverty-stricken Uganda, according to the organization’s Web site.

The group scheduled a banquet Tuesday at the Coleman Morse lounge and a discussion of worldwide hunger and poverty, led by Father Paul Kollman, to accompany it.

On Wednesday Father Bill Lies will preside a candlelight vigil at the Grotto, followed by a movie screening and a discussion with biological sciences professor David Lodge at the helm Thursday.

The task force will conclude the week Friday with a food, booths and different speakers at a community block party at the Fieldhouse Mall open to all students.

Because one of the major focuses of the MDG is malaria eradication, Wednesday will mark Malaria Awareness Day, Bitter said. Since last fall, the task force has been accepting $10 donations for bed nets in Africa to protect villagers against the mosquito-borne disease. Bitter said malaria weakens the immune system, making the contraction of the AIDS virus easier as well.

She said the malaria issue, combined with the gender equality problems and the other MDG goals offer students a broad spectrum of fields that may interest them, making the movement appealing to all majors.

“The main idea of MDG is to express to students that there is a role for all areas of study,” Bitter said. “It is not just for peace studies, social sciences, etc. Medical researchers, pre-meds and others all can be engaged.”