Awareness: The weapon of choice in the battle for justice

By Jamie Santoro
September 21, 2010

Our world is a big place. Every day I am reminded of that. I’m reminded that there are a million problems with a million people shouting about it but with only one answer. Every day I hear the facts: this many people die of this disease and this many people go hungry in this country.

Every day I look at my two hands and am ashamed at how little I do. I am sitting pretty at a fantastic private college spending money I don’t have. I could take these loans and fly to Haiti with a planeload of medical supplies. I could cure diseases that, in America, require a simple cocktail of antibiotics. I could really change things.

Maybe it’s just me but I always feel like I need to do more. Cabrini’s “Justice Matters” program has been a blessing and a curse for me. I felt like there was a whole world I had no idea about until I came here, yet it left a hole in me. It’s like I took a class in “you feel heartless, don’t you? 101.”

In the last few months, I learned a difficult lesson. We were reading a book in my ECG class (Faces of Justice) about a woman who left her life in suburbia to go on a mission in Haiti. She had no medical or political background, just a full heart.

At first the book infuriated me. I was annoyed with this woman. She went to Haiti and watched it burn. She was selfish and was trying to better know herself. I thought of all the stories I’ve heard about Haiti, both before and after the earthquake; children living under tarps, diseases that are a mere bother to an American are a death sentence in the steamy mountains of Haiti.

She was sitting there wallowing in her own indecisiveness as millions suffered. I was waiting to be bombarded with information. I wanted the numbers: who was hungry? Why? What was the agriculture like? How stable is the government? Who is in charge? I never really got to answer those questions because my epiphany came first.

All of the sudden I realized that this woman had done the most important thing for the people of Haiti. She got my attention. Granted, I already had knowledge of the area but it was just that: knowledge. There was no emotional connection. All I saw was a people suffering. I didn’t know these people. The greatest weapon in the fight against injustice is awareness.

Women in Southern Sudan vote in the nations first multi-party election in 22 years. These women will also help decide whether the south will succede in another vote this January. -- MCT

The perfect way to make a big change in the world is to get people talking. Dedicated people at the heart of an issue or conflict get the word out initially. Intellectuals who have a handle on the world’s events pick up on this and go to the closest media outlet, whether it’s The New York Times or their Twitter account. Young professionals and college students pick up on it and teach themselves the issues. Then we have the most important job. We have to get everyone else’s attention, whether we’re just talking to our families at the dinner table or we’re organizing rallies and hosting speakers.

This campus has so many opportunities to change the world. Just by deciding to attend you opened up your potential. Through groups like the Catholic Relief Services Ambassadors program and ECG classes, changing the world is in your grasp.

So now I am taking this opportunity to change the world. In about 100 days, the African nation of Sudan may be no more. The south is voting to secede and become its own nation. If it breaks away from the north, the north loses control of the oil deposits across the Southern Sudan. The relationship between the north and south is not good and not just because of the oil. The north is mostly Muslim Arabs and the capital city is located there. They have the power. The south is home to poorer Africans, mostly Christians and animists. They have no voice and are taken advantage of. Their secession could cause the largest conflict in Africa’s history.

That paragraph may enlighten one person. Armed with knowledge, that one person has the potential to do anything. You may call it the butterfly effect or advocacy. To me it’s the only way we can make this world better. We can change the world. It might not feel like it or it might not feel like we can do much but if we keep our minds and our hearts open, we can conquer anything.

Jamie Santoro

2 thoughts on “Awareness: The weapon of choice in the battle for justice”

  1. This is a beautiful article. At the end of the day all we can really do is educate. Educate ourselves, educate our peers, and perhaps most importantly educate the world. This past summer I traveled to the developing nation of El Salvador. I ignorantly thought I was going to build a library and “bless” the people of El Salvador with my white middle-class presence. Boy did I have a rude awakening which occurred to me in the several thoughts: How much of a difference can I actually make in a week (basically none)? Wouldn’t the money I fund-raised better serve the people of El Salvador by being used to hire a trained builder who is probably desperate for work and would do a much better job than I ever could? These people living in poverty are far happier and filled with the most sincere faith than I have ever seen. The latter was probably the hardest of my realizations to comprehend. As Mother Teresea once said, “In the West there is loneliness, which I call the leprosy of the West. In many ways it is worse than our poor in Calcutta.” (Commonweal, Dec 19, 1997) Whom am I to help them? In the end my mission trip was for me. I needed to see for myself the lifestyle that is the norm in the suburban bubble I live is not the norm for the world. I needed to see happiness comes from faith and love, not possessions. I needed to see all this so I can come back here and respond to this article. As seen in the gospel of Luke “To whom much has been given, much is expected. (Luke 12:48) I was given a tremendous learning opportunity to which I am expected to share. We are all given the opportunity for growth in knowledge to which we are expected to utilize. As Mr. Santoro has said, this may have enlightened one person, perhaps none, but with the awareness we have we can do anything.

  2. Jamie,
    I’m late in getting to reading this but it is really interesting. What I think about a lot is the relationship between knowledge and effective action. First of all, between knowledge and action and then second between knowledge and effective action. Knowledge obviously doesn’t translate into action, in fact, most of the time it doesn’t. Why does it sometimes? Then effective action. That’s what ECG 300 grapples with. Our 100, 200, 300 have been really an exploratory journey trying to figure out awareness, commitment, action. Let’s make an appointment for 50 years from now and see where it ends up… well, at least you’ll show up for that appointment! LOL.

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