The woman working a fire made from animal dung, the man working for a few pennies a day and the child playing in the ghetto. These faces may be lost to diseases such as AIDS, to malnutrition, to exhaustion, to violence and, most of all, to those who chose to look away. Senior Ryan Lehr chose not to look away.
Lehr founded a chapter of ONE, an advocacy campaign that raises awareness about global poverty and disease, at GW in early November.
“A lot of people are aware that extreme poverty and disease and hunger exist, but I don’t think people realize the resources exist to actually fight it and end it,” said Lehr, who founded ONE GW after deciding to join the Peace Corps following graduation. He said he was looking to make a difference and did not want to wait until after graduation to do so.
The ONE campaign consists of more than 2.4 million people and more than 100 nonprofit organizations that pressure politicians to allocate government money to provide basic needs for people in underdeveloped countries, according to its Web site. It is nonpartisan; its only agenda is to stop global poverty.
GW’s strong political climate provides a receptive environment for the organization’s agenda, said Maia Blume, a senior and member of the GW chapter.
She said her organization hopes to attract the same type of active, dedicated students in groups like GW STAND, a Darfur advocacy group.
In a matter of weeks, ONE GW’s membership has ballooned. A few weeks ago, there were about 30 members. Now more than 120 students are involved.
Two weeks ago, ONE GW wrote more than 100,000 letters to their congressmen to support the Growth Act, a bill in Congress that would increase funds for economic opportunities for women in developing countries. About 12 members from the group delivered the letters.
This activity is one of many that earn the group points as part of the national ONE Campaign’s “Campus Challenge.” As part of the challenge, the GW group competes with other schools across the country. Points are given for tabling events and conferences, mascots wearing a ONE T-shirt or recruiting the most members. The top 10 schools receive a grant to start their own poverty-fighting program. A goal of the GW group, currently ranked No. 18, is to be in the top 10. A few weeks ago, ONE GW was No. 138 of about 2,000.
“Although this isn’t the main goal, it gives people a fun way to spread awareness about the cause,” Lehr said.
A lot of the responsibility falls upon students and people outside of the government to make a difference, and ONE GW is committed to doing this.
The ONE GW motto is, “ONE voice, ONE action, ONE student, ONE GW,” but the action can not take place unless it is backed by more people. ONE GW is trying to raise more awareness and get in the top ten, but all of this relies heavily on response from GW students. Their next steps include targeting freshmen and sophomores by demonstrating how active they are on campus, Blume said.
Lehr said, “What we do does make a difference, maybe not right now, but it’s making a difference.”