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Not One Life to Spare

April 24, 2005

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    Photo: Eric Block/MercyCorps Photo:

Mercy Corps Founder Dan O'Neill delivered the following speech at The ONE Campaign rally that took place before U2's concert in Seattle on April 24, 2005.

Today is a great day to be Irish in Seattle! In a couple of hours my Irish cousins, Bono and the boys, will rock the house. A great, foot-stomping time will be had by all. But our friend Bono has rocked a lot of other houses on the planet over the last few years - houses of government, houses of media, houses of business - our own comfortable houses. I applaud Bono, and all others like him, who have used their celebrity and their resources to rock our houses and send a wake-up call to the world about the things in this life that matter most.

At Mercy Corps we've adopted a powerful thought from Gandhi: "Be the change you wish to see in the world." We can be that change. You can be that change. That is why you are here.

A few days ago I attended a conference at the University of Washington. The theme was journalism and trauma. I had the opportunity to talk to Aaron Brown of CNN, Barry Peterson (the CBS-TV news bureau chief based in London), newspaper reporters, photographers and a number of other journalists who have witnessed horrific human disasters in person and up close. They were surprisingly candid about the stress and grief they have experienced.

Aid workers and journalists share many of the same nightmares. Aaron Brown said he could not fathom the immensity and the tragedy of South Asia's tsunami when he reported from Aceh, Indonesia. He wondered how he could effectively communicate the true dimensions of such a catastrophe to his viewing audience. "How do you wrap your arms around the fact that 300,000 people perished in a day?" he asked.

Then he realized he simply had to tell the touching story of one person - one precious life lost. We are moved. Then we are struck by the shocking reality that this person died - 300,000 times. And this does not even begin to approach the death toll taken by the silent tsunamis of poverty, hunger, disease and conflict. We cannot grasp such numbers with the finite mind. But we can grasp the idea of one person.

I never shall forget standing over a dying little girl in a Somali refugee camp. She was about the age of my daughter and she died of hunger and dehydration. I was the last thing she saw in this world. My face was the last image she would take to her little grave. I was shaken. A rabbi once said when a child dies a part of the very universe dies with that child. Since that day in Somalia I have come to believe that this is true. We know the statistics. They are too big to comprehend. But it all boils down to one. One child, one family, one village, one nation, one human race, one planet.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was a great inspiration to me in founding Mercy Corps, said this: "Help somebody! If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one!"

Yes, I am only one person. But I am one! If I am one, then I can do something. If I can do something, I should do something. And if I should do something, I believe God will give me the grace and strength to do that thing. It is all about the Power of One.

The ONE Campaign asks our government for one added percent to our foreign aid budget. With only one more percent, we can help prevent ten million children from becoming AIDS orphans. We can help get 104 million children in grade school. We can help provide water to 900 million people around the globe. We can save over six million kids under five from dying of preventable diseases through vaccinations and clean water. Just one more percent, from one country! We can make a huge, meaningful, positive difference!

The ONE Campaign has a simple and profound mandate and it's this: Do the right thing. There is no argument against the objectives of the one campaign. There is every argument for it. It is beyond the politics of left and right. How else would you find Brad Pitt and Pat Robertson on the same team? Who can make a case against stopping suffering, poverty, and oppression by building secure, productive and just communities? Former Seattle King 5 TV news anchor and current Dateline NBC correspondent, Margaret Larson, has worked with Mercy Corps over the years. She told me on a trip we took to a war zone that she doesn't really like philosophizing about the theories and implementation strategies of complex humanitarian scenarios, although she knows their value. She says simply, "Some things just plain need doin'!" She's right. And that is what The ONE Campaign is all about - doing the things that need be done because they are the right things to do.

We are all part of the human family and we should be about doing what all good families do - caring for our less fortunate brothers and sisters.

I urge you to get involved and to stay involved. I urge you to email The ONE Campaign website address to your family, your friends, and your co-workers. Be a recruiter for the one campaign! You can be the change! You can be a compassionate center of energy. Robert Kennedy said: "Whenever a person acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

It is like a tsunami - a tsunami of hope and compassion. We can launch this humanitarian tidal wave together. We can be the change! Together, we can build a better, safer world.