Faculty, staff and community members filled the performance hall of the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center during back-to-back presentations Sept. 7 by Hugh Evans, co-founder and CEO of the Global Poverty Project.
“It was a full house both times, which puts attendance around 1,900 for the night,” said Jennifer Cooper, interim director of service learning and co-chair of the WCU Poverty Project.
During the presentation, Evans, a 28-year-old from Australia, described his personal experience spending the night as a 14-year-old on an exchange trip through World Vision with the family of another teen in a slum in the Philippines, and the realization that it was mere chance that he was born into his comfortable living conditions and the teen from the Philippines was born into poverty. Evans talked about extreme poverty and shared examples of what it means to live on less than $1.25 a day. He asked attendees at the WCU presentations to consider taking actions such as signing a petition for The End of Polio, a campaign in which every signature on the petition will be matched with funding for one vaccine to help end polio. He also invited them to consider taking part in the Live Below the Line awareness and fundraising campaign in which they commit to live on less than $1.50 a day for five days.
Evans contended that it is possible to see an end to extreme poverty in a lifetime, and gave examples of extraordinary development in South Korea where cities with skyscrapers have replaced poor, undeveloped areas. He challenged attendees to join him in leaving a legacy of bringing an end to extreme poverty.
WCU students said they left inspired, and the event sparked some critical discussion about extreme poverty and the best ways to address it, and that was the goal, said John Whitmire, co-chair of the WCU Poverty Project steering committee.
“What we really hoped this presentation would do is get a conversation started this year in which we look seriously at the causes and consequences of poverty and related issues, and what we might be able to do about them,” said Whitmire.
Zac Wallace, a freshman Honors College student from Mount Airy majoring in mathematics secondary education, said he already signed the petition Evans mentioned to end polio and talked with four friends about participating in the Live Below the Line campaign in October. “We decided we could live off of Ramen noodles if we had to,” said Wallace.
For Wallace, one of the most surprising statistics Evans shared was the illustration that for half of what is spent on bottled water, clean water could be provided for everyone in the world. “I left thinking about how anybody can make a difference when it comes to poverty,” said Wallace. “Simply raising your voice to actually spread the word that it’s out there and calling upon world leaders can help.”
Katie Hopkins, a freshman Honors College student from Boone majoring in nursing, said it was the personal stories of real people living in poverty that touched her the most. Evans shared videos such as a man describing the hard work of digging up roots to sell to support his family, and a woman who felt that her life was saved because of increased measures to care for women preparing for childbirth. Fatal hemorrhaging during childbirth is one of the most common causes of maternal mortality for anemic or undernourished pregnant women, and 99 percent of the 500,000 women who die in childbirth every year live in developing countries, according to information posted by the Global Poverty Project. Statistically, that means one girl or woman in developing countries dies giving birth every minute.
Hopkins said the maternal health portion of the presentation left her thinking about the possibility of pursuing a specialty within nurse anesthesia that would enable her to work with expectant mothers. “For a long time, I’ve wanted to do mission work, and now I definitely know I’d like to do more with women and childbirth,” said Hopkins.
Aaron Marshall, the Student Government Association senator for service learning, said he connected with Evans on Facebook after the presentation, and they have communicated about some ways WCU students could take action this year.
“I was absolutely blown away by the presentation,” said Marshall, a sophomore from Gastonia majoring in athletic training and minoring in race, gender and ethnic relations. “You could see that he loves his job, loves every second of every minute of what he’s doing to help people. WCU students were moved by the emotion that he carried in his message. We think we are poor college students, but we have North Face book bags and MacBook computers and a dining hall, which is far different from someone who literally lives on ounces of rice or ounces of food a day and has to work themselves as hard as they can just to get that. It is a reality check and humbles you.”
Faculty members such as Ted Coyle, head of the anthropology and sociology department and director of the ethnography laboratory, said he also hoped the event would open the door to critical discussion on the topic of extreme poverty. Coyle had concerns, for instance, about an assumption during the presentation that increasing free trade and global industrialization will help eradicate extreme poverty.
“This is uncomfortably close to the ‘market fundamentalism’ that Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz saw as underlying the so-called Washington Consensus of the 1980s,” said Coyle. “We now see, of course, that this approach to international development led to the growth of vast megacities and sprawling border industrial zones characterized by a new and very depressing kind of urban poverty. People may make slightly more cash now, but what about the subsistence land and rural community that they’ve lost? That was not cash, so they would be considered extremely poor by the World Bank, but they had their own food to eat. Now they must eat empty calories in urban slums.”
Coyle noted the example Evans gave of South Korea and pointed out that specific historical circumstances were tied to the country’s economic growth. “Shall we also station 50,000 U.S. troops in every other impoverished country in the world for half a century after partitioning those countries in halves?” asked Coyle. “I hope that students take away from this yearlong experience that they should think critically but deeply about global issues today,” said Coyle, who offered his students extra credit for attending Evans’ presentation and writing about it in terms of a series of articles they are reading related to globalization and poverty. “I was thrilled by the huge turnout to the presentation and commend the organizers for putting it at the beginning of the year so that we can continue to think about these issues all year and into the future.”
Whitmire said he doesn’t think Evans himself actually supports a radically deregulatory neoliberal position, but noted that Evans’ or the Global Poverty Project’s positions are not the fundamental issue for the initiative at WCU. “We as an academic community now have a great opportunity to think carefully about the causes and debate the potential solutions to poverty-related issues this year, and then take some real action in both our local and global communities” he said.
Western Carolina University’s Public Policy Institute will sponsor a series of events Thursday, Sept. 15, to Tuesday, Sept. 20, in honor of Constitution Day. A panel and participants in an essay contest will explore the question “Is there or should there be a constitutional right to a minimum level of subsistence?” The panel discussion will be held in the Blue Ridge Hall Conference Room A from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Sept. 15. Contest essays, which are due Sept. 20, may explore such questions as whether the Constitution guarantees a right to food, water, shelter and other necessities by way of food stamps, public housing or homeless shelters.
In addition, a voter registration drive on Friday, Sept. 16, will be held on the lawn of A.K. Hinds University Center. Nearby, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., students from the Public Policy Institute and the Pre-Law Club will be dressed in colonial attire handing out pocket-sized copies of the U.S. Constitution and asking Constitution trivia. For more information, visit the Public Policy Institute’s Constitution Day blog and website at wcuconstitutionday2011.wordpress.com or e-mail email@example.com, or call 828-227-2086.
A series of four documentary films about the various causes of poverty, its impact and possible solutions to issues such as corruption, gender inequality and access to resources will begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, with the screening of “Inside Job.” A discussion of the film will be led by Dan Bromberg, assistant professor of political science and public affairs.
Laura Wright, associate professor and director of graduate students for English, and Heather Talley, assistant professor of sociology, are coordinating the series, which also will feature screening and discussions of “Born Into Brothels” on Nov. 3, “Waste Land” on Feb. 8, and “Farenheit 2010” on April 3.
“‘Inside Job’ is about the pervasive corruption in the U.S. financial industry that led to the economic meltdown of 2008,” said Wright. “We would like for our students to leave this film with a greater awareness of what sort of public policy changes landed our economy in such a dire position, one from which we have yet to recover. Our hope is that by starting our series with a film about the U.S., students will be able to make connections between wealth disparity both here and in the other locales featured in the films that populate the rest of the series.”
Other films are set in India, Brazil and South Africa.
WCU’s Center for Service Learning will join the campus Wesley Foundation to sponsor a Stop Hunger Now food packing event from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1.
Stop Hunger Now is an international hunger relief organization that coordinates the distribution of food and other life-saving aid around the world. At food-packing events, volunteers package dehydrated, high-protein and highly nutritious meals that are used in crisis situations and in school feeding programs for schools and orphanages in developing countries around the world.
To reserve one of the limited volunteer spots available, contact Cooper at 828-227-2595 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WCU’s Leadership Institute and Office of Leadership and Student Involvement will sponsor for the third year in a row a “house party” of a different kind. Students will build houses out of cardboard boxes on the lawn of A.K. Hinds University Center and sleep outside overnight. Proceeds also benefit organizations that serve people in need of shelter.
“We hope that through this event, students will have a better understanding of local poverty issues, discuss amongst themselves the feelings and emotions around the issue at hand, and begin to dialogue together on how they can work together to address this issue and assist in the effort,” said Mike Corelli, associate director for leadership programs.
By Teresa Killian Tate