Global Poverty Project launches nationwide campaign at Pepperdine

The event attracted 200 students interested in learning how to stamp out poverty worldwide.

By Michael Aushenker / Special to The Malibu Times

Roughly 200 Pepperdine University students convened inside the campus’ Elkins Auditorium on Monday night for a presentation by the Global Poverty Project, an organization devoted to “making poverty history” by raising awareness of the 1.4 billion people worldwide going hungry, and by galvanizing college youth to help end extreme poverty. One in seven people goes hungry, even though the capacity exists to feed every human one and half times over.

Jessica Mason, one of the nonprofit’s student “road scholars,” hosted the event. She led the one-hour program, which included film clips to illustrate her points.

“The world’s poorest poor are people just like us,” Mason told her audience, before recounting a terrifying personal experience in 2008 while in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Riots had broken out after an alleged rigged election, and Mason and her party were trapped among angry, violent demonstrators.

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“We went to bed that night hearing the sound of gunfire,” she recalled of the time, which quickly escalated into “a seriously unsafe situation.”

Despite the ugly experience, Mason told her peers, “I understood their anger at the government that kept stealing from them and electing the same regime.”

Governmental corruption, in fact, along with a lack of resources and absent trade and manufacturing opportunities, are what Mason identified as barriers in the war against poverty, keeping people down in Third World countries.

With the extreme poor subsisting on less than $1.25 a day, “what happens if a member of your family gets sick?” Mason asked rhetorically, regarding choosing between eating and seeking medical attention. “This is a real challenge faced by people around the world,” she said.

Mason delivered a lecture rife with “Yes, We Can!”-sized optimism, underscoring that change is possible. When a cholera epidemic rose out of the Thames River in 1850, killing tens of thousands of Londoners, it resulted in the invention of the first sewer system. She credited the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for reducing malaria and HIV cases in Africa. As one young woman, Andrea Choi, pointed out on film, South Korea transformed itself “from an aid-recipient country to an aid-giving country,” today self-relying on exports from native companies like Samsung, Hyundai and Kia, and affording her generation opportunities that her ancestors never had.

“It is possible to see a complete change,” Choi said.

The rosiest statistic: since 1982, the percentage of world poverty has dropped from 52 percent to 25 percent. A solution is within our reach, Mason repeated. She then asked the audience for ideas on how to stamp out extreme poverty.

Amanda Jacobi suggested providing countries that do not have stability with financial aid.

Eric Cox and Bradley Smith brought up a “universal education system,” as Cox put it, “Not only [a physical] class but a [web] camera [allowing] other children to log in.”

Another audience member said, “Africa has more resources than other countries but the people there don’t have control of most of their resources … it comes down to the leadership.”

Mason urged students not to be complacent. Education is the key, she said, and transparency must be demanded of politicians and corporations, or else corruption can happen in plain sight.

Case in point: the son of the ruler of Equatorial Guinea, who technically draws a $48,000 annual salary, purchased a palatial $35-million home right here in Malibu, and has recently ordered a $380 million yacht. Mason said that French and English banks were complicit in transferring his funds to the U.S., and young people need to be aware of and protest such graft.

Started in 2008 in Australia by CEO Hugh Evans, Global Poverty Project opened an office in the United Kingdom before taking its message out to the world.

Prior to Monday’s event, Global Poverty campaign manager Bobby Bailey and volunteer Whitney Lopez discussed the awareness campaign.

Bailey works with eight staff members and volunteer “road scholars,” coordinating between the nonprofit’s El Segundo office and its main U.S. outpost in New York’s Greenwich Village.

“The students are saying, ‘We’ve been involved since we’ve been young,’” Bailey said. “‘We want to know what the bigger picture is in foreign development.’ They’re waking up to the fact that systems are broken, and we’re pouring money into them.”

Students are heartened that Global Poverty is not merely about “opening our wallets and giving money,” he said. “It’s about the way we treat the world.”

“We’re starting a campaign called, ‘Live Below the Line,’” Lopez said, “challenging people to live on $1.50 a day for five days.”

“This is one of those ongoing things,” Bailey added. “Right now, we’re doing a spring tour of 100 schools and campuses across the nation.”

Following Monday’s Elkins Auditorium program, the organization’s “Live Below the Line” campaign will travel to colleges and festivals in Seattle, New Orleans, Houston, Philadelphia, New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Boston and Atlanta.

“People don’t realize the United Nations has been wanting to [end poverty] since 2000,” Lopez said. “We’re helping bring [the message] across the United States.”

In many ways, Lopez, 20, is your typical Pepperdine student: a Salt Lake City native paying her bills by working at Malibu Health Center and as a Red Bull girl. But the double major, studying philosophy and sports medicine, has also taken the extra step of getting involved. For Lopez, the most fulfilling part has been, she said, “Seeing the impact it has on anyone who watches the presentation.”

The presentation counts as one of the “convocations,” Lopez said, “messages that empower service and leadership in a global perspective” that Pepperdine requires its students attend. (Technically, Pepperdine counted Monday night’s event as a double convocation for its curriculum.)

“We’re required to go to 14 of those a semester. I got the idea to open it up to the Malibu community. As Pepperdine students, we often feel isolated from the Malibu community.”

She spread awareness of the event at local coffeehouses and reached out to local media to discuss the organization and its mission-a mission jibing with her own.

“I always have been seeking justice…” Lopez said. “There’s extreme poverty [but] we can actually end that.”

Bailey praised the efforts of Lopez and other students in advancing Global Poverty’s message.

“They have a pulse…on the culture and can really inform us on what’s relevant to them,” he said. “It’s nothing without the university students.”

More information on the Global Poverty Project can be obtained online at globalpovertyproject.com

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