I am an eternal optimist.
I look for the best in people. Always.
My greatest bent in life is to look for the ways in which things and people, systems and structures may be restored.
I just see hope and potential everywhere. Brokenhearted people, antique furniture, neighborhoods crumbling under the foreclosure crisis, students who have fallen through the gaps in the education system.
It is through these rose-tinted lenses that I encountered Gary Haugen’s new book The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence.
In The Locust Effect Haugen paints a sobering picture of the effects of violence on the world’s poorest residents. As the former director of the United Nations Special Investigations Unit on the Rwandan Genocides and current president of International Justice Mission, Haugen is confronted with heartbreaking stories and harrowing realities as often as I am confronted with the challenge of navigating a two-year-old melting down in the grocery store.
The Locust Effect digs in to the nitty gritty of global development, the decidedly unsexy side of addressing poverty. There are no no quick fixes or easy answers to be found.
“Indeed, for the global poor in this century, there is no higher-priority need with deeper and broader implications than the provision of basic justice systems that can protect them from the devastating ruin of common violence. Because as anyone who has tasted it knows, if you’re not safe, nothing else matters.”
I’ve heard campaigns and bought t-shirts, music albums, pairs of shoes and coffee served in red-colored cups all in the name of doing justice in the developing world.
Buy this shirt and help build a school!
Buy this brand of water and help dig a well!
Your paper-bead necklace supports a small business owned by this widow in Kenya!
This red-colored coffee cup will help cure HIV/AIDS!
It all fit so well in my rose-colored, hope-in-any-circumstance, glass-half-full kind of world.
But then I read about the village of La Union in Peru, where in just one week a medical examiner may see as many as 50 rape victims between the ages of 10-13.
I read about the 27 million slaves kept in bondage in the world today, and how their owners are not lurking in dark alleys. They are announcing their fierceness and violence toward their slaves unabashedly in the streets.
I read that the most common crime committed against children in South Africa is rape.
I read that, horrifically, schools in the developing world are often places of sexual violence toward the girls who attend them in hopes of gaining an education.
As I read, my half-full-glass began to crack and seep. A slow, sorrowful trickling from the glass and from the corners of my eyes alike.
I had all but convinced myself that magic bullets exist.
I moved into the inner city of Milwaukee four years ago, and fully believed that if we only moved closer to the pain and suffering of others that our proximity would bring restoration.
I read Half the Sky and believed if we could only educate children – boys and girls equally – around the globe, then our communities would be stronger and our hope for the future would be realized.
But there are no magic bullets.
There are no quick fixes.
Our t-shirts, bottled water choices, paper bead necklaces and red-colored cups of coffee cannot ultimately change the world.
They can help.
But as Haugen points out, unless there is a functioning justice system in place in communities in the developing world, any efforts to improve education or access to water, to jumpstart small businesses for single mothers or address health concerns like HIV/AIDS will ultimately be consumed by violence, like locusts bringing havoc on a field ripe for harvest.
“We need to fundamentally change the conversation. Whenever we speak of global poverty, we must speak of the violence imbedded in that poverty…
In every forum, conference, classroom, policy discussion, think tank, blog, or dinner table conversation where global poverty is center stage, the problem of violence deserves equal time with hunger, dirty water, disease, illiteracy, unemployment, gender discrimination, housing, or sanitation because for the poor, violence is every bit as devastating and is frequently the hidden force undermining solutions to these other needs.”
WIth such overwhelming statistics and gut-wrenching stories The Locust Effect left me wondering a bit about what I could practically do to engage – and hopefully change – such dire circumstances for people around the world.
I’m all for starting conversations and raising awareness, but what more can I do?
(Since, let’s be real, I’m not going back to law school and moving to Peru anytime soon.)
I was encouraged, though, to hear in an interview discussing The Locust Effect Gary Haugen sighting the influence and importance of Millennials in the fight against injustice.
“I think this actually can be the generation that eliminates this epidemic of slavery that we have in the world. This could be the generation, but that will require their capacity – our capacity – to be committed to the stretch of our lives to see that this problem is dealt with.”
The step right now in the journey toward justice? Adovocate. Tell the stories. Make the conversations happen.
This may not seem like much sometimes, but this is our role at this moment and we must be faithful to it.
The journey we’re embarking on is a long one. Slavery and oppression and the stripping of human dignity have been around for centuries. But rather than be discouraged by the magnitude of the problem, let us be encouraged in the steps we personally can take today. To open our eyes, to lean in, to let our hearts ache, to tell our circles of influence what we have seen.
The path to freedom and wholeness for humanity is a marathon, not a sprint. I’m training for a half-marathon right now, and some days all I can focus on is putting one foot in front of the other mile after tediously long mile.
This is our call, generation. My millennials, in the house. That we would be faithful, step after step, mile after mile of this journey. That we would not grow tired of running the race. That the stories of the victims and the freed would ever be on our lips. That we would be “committed to the stretch of our lives.” Every last breath given in some way to seeing dignity and wholeness granted to each person on earth.
You can start to make an impact on the epidemic of violence against the poor today. How?
1) Read The Locust Effect and get informed. If you purchase a copy of the book by tomorrow, February 15th, a partner of IJM will donate $20 to help fight violence against the poor.
2) Spread the word. Link to this blog and to http://www.thelocusteffect.com to help get the word out and inform other people.
3) Stay engaged. Let your heart break for this daily. Do not grow tired of speaking up and getting the word out. We need you in this for the long haul.
I’m giving away one free copy of The Locust Effect to a reader, just follow the instructions below for your chance to win this paradigm shifting book!