A Witness to a Social Movement, I Need a Jacket and a Thinking Cap

In 2 months on the road, with just a backpack and a computer, I have evidence that a social movement is at hand. It’s still a bit underground, as so many grassroots movements are at the beginning, but there’s no doubt that it’s there; and it’s powerful. Thousands of university students from around the world are uniting to create the world’s largest student-led movement for international development. It’s unprecedented. It’s challenging. It’s exciting. Is it a good idea?

Since I hit the road in Boston in September, I have spoken with several hundred university students along the east coast representing some of the top educational institutions on the planet. They are building teams to organize, fundraise and travel to rural Central America to implement sustainable development projects. When I meet with them, they talk about global health. They talk about poverty. They challenge the practices of the UN, the WHO and the United States and they commit to finding better ways to do development work. All of these students are united through Global Brigades with the goal to reduce the disparity of wealth and increase quality of health globally.

Just thinking about this gives me chills down my body (and not only because as a Californian on the east coast, I am continuously unprepared for the freezing weather. I mean, snow in mid-October. SNOW. Thank you, Boston). The potential seems endless. But there is also an underlying fear. Can we really do this? More than one person has told me that one-week projects just can’t be sustainable. That international development work cannot be done though short-term volunteers, especially when they are undergraduates with little to no field experience. This is just not how development work is done, they say. Can we simply laugh in the face of these people and keep going? We have reached the point where we are truly impacting the lives of Hondurans and Panamanians in significant ways. What if what we are doing really is irresponsible???

NOT doing this would be irresponsible. Not opening up a conversation this important to everyone, a conversation about how to provide all people of the world with basic resources, would be deadly to our world. The reality is no one has the answers to these questions. It is a global debate and university students as much as anyone should be a part of it—no, they HAVE TO be a part of it. But with this exciting opportunity for the youth of the world to have real power in a global dialogue comes real responsibility, responsibility that we cannot ignore.

We must improve the quality of our work now. We must put on our thinking caps and step it up a level. And we cannot do it alone. We are inexperienced and this is new. We need the help of everyone with any ideas. We need professors, development workers, government officials and other nonprofits, especially those that are challenging the foundation of what we do. We need them to tell us how we can do it better.

This is a call to action. We cannot be complacent. We cannot simply work. We, as youth, are responsible for what we do and we must challenge ourselves every day to get better. Then we can show the world that we are not just youth, we are the future and we plan to make our future better for ourselves and for everyone on the planet.


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