Youth helping youth tackle global issues

March 23, 2011

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Hi everyone! As a volunteer and participant in the Global Citizen Corps (GCC) program, I go to the Mercy Corps headquarters once a week and help with anything I can — including organization of GCC projects. My school has a volunteering program, where you can go to organisations and help out. I chose Mercy Corps for my voluntary service where I have several tasks ranging from sticking addresses on calendars to hosting hunger banquets!

In order to highlight GCC's Global Action Campaigns, I am interviewing Mercy Corps Program Officers who deal with issues relevant to each one of our Global Actions in their area.

December’s campaign focus was on Global Health. I interviewed Mark Henderson, our Program Officer in charge of Eastern and Southern Africa, to find out more about what Mercy Corps does abroad to support people who face extreme health issues such as HIV/AIDS. As a GCC leader, I am very interested in what we do to support our fellow youth with whatever issues they have and, personally, I am fascinated by having these global partnerships to help one another and create global connections.

In my interview with the Program Officer I focused on Zimbabwe and Sudan — two countries where there are major health issues faced by many people. Zimbabwe really struggles with its health issues, as at least 20 percent of adults are HIV-positive and they are also in the middle of a cholera epidemic due to unclean drinking water. This fight with health has caused youth to have very little opportunities in their lives, as all their energy is used to maintain the poor health they have.

Here in the United Kingdom (UK), we have the National Health Service (NHS) and do not have to worry this much about our well-being. We can easily get food and clean water and, when we are ill, it is not far or difficult to get hold of a doctor to treat us. Young people do not often appreciate this fact, that this service is not something that everyone receives — that's one reason why GCC encourages young people to reflect on the inequalities between countries.

Furthermore, Mercy Corps has also established programs to help disabled people in Zimbabwe, which is improving the lives of many less fortunate people. In Europe, we pride ourselves with offering equal opportunities, and society has a duty to help the under-privileged within our own society so this promise of equality is achieved. Of course, there still are many people in poverty in Europe — especially in the UK where there is a large income gap that creates a health gap between the poor and the rich. However, the support we offer to those in need is more effective than in many places in the world.

In Sudan, the main Mercy Corps focus is not health. However there are many programs that improve health in a more indirect way, such as primary health care programs, as well as the building and staffing of hospitals.There is also a lot of training to improve people’s lives by setting up small businesses, which gives young people an opportunity to earn an income and provide job opportunities to their communities. This made me realise how easy we have it here in the UK, and that we are merely lucky enough that the majority of people do not have to rely on the help of organisations such as Mercy Corps.

There are, of course, still many people in need in developed countries. Just as we help people in poverty here in the UK, we also have a responsibility to help those in other countries. GCC has taught me that our global identity is just as important as our national one — so supporting people should not be limited to a specific area, although making a change in your community is the easiest and often most effective way to promote change. Therefore, it is important that we can give something back to these countries who do not have the same opportunities and that we raise awareness of the need for more support.

One of the things GCC has done was to interview people in Edinburgh on what issue they think needs to be tackled first in order to make the world a better place; Global Health, Peace and Conflict, Global Warming, Gender Inequality or any other issues they thought were relevant. The majority of people interviewed thought that global issues were the most important and needed to be dealt with immediately, however some believed local issues were more important — such as handling the recession and the resulting increase of people in poverty here in the UK. The contrast between people thinking local or global issues were more relevant to themselves was incredibly interesting, especially the issue of health. People highlighted how there is a need in improving health in Scotland just as much as there is in Zimbabwe, and that the UK government should aim to tackle this local problem.

GCC is so important because we can advertise to younger people in the UK how they are very privileged and can give something back to the global community. We make it easier for them to take this action by donating or helping organise projects to support people of their own age group in other countries. As youth working together across countries, we strive to help our fellow youth become self-sufficient.

Our support is a good way to start the change needed to ensure these countries have happier prospects for their future. GCC is not only a one-way system though, as GCC leaders in the UK can learn so much from leaders from other countries who face different problems on a daily basis than we do. Their insight and opinions are just as important and interesting as ours, so having the opportunity to talk to them through GCC is fantastic.