By Paul Pearce, Unbound’s director of global strategy
The United Nations’ World Day of Social Justice promotes poverty eradication, full employment and social integration. It is observed each year on Feb. 20.
Social justice requires us to go beyond charity. It requires us to work on structures, attitudes and practices in society that are out of balance, that are biased in some way or lead to some members of society having opportunities for lives with dignity while others do not.
We at Unbound believe one factor that delays action for social justice is a lack of understanding about those it would help. People living in inferior conditions are not inferior people. They have unique talents, aspirations and ideas just like the rest of us.
In a survey of moms participating in the Unbound program around the world, 90 percent said they believe they have the power to change their families’ situations, and 59 percent see themselves as leaders in their communities. It would be a horrible mistake and missed opportunity for society at large not to invest in these mothers’ plans for their children and communities.
Sometimes the poor are viewed as a cost to society, and sometimes the worst interpretation of social justice is that it is merely a redistribution of wealth.
At Unbound, we don’t work on government policy or institutional practices to create social justice. Although those initiatives are important, we work on social justice at the street and family levels. At the center of Unbound’s work is the effort for families to have more choices in their lives, to have a say in decisions that affect their lives.
We have found that the parents who live on these streets and in these homes have many ideas to solve problems, to create opportunities and to help their children reach their potential, but they lack the financial stability or resources to put those plans into action. Sometimes they lack a platform from which to contribute their ideas or talents.
There are also some families whose confidence has been shattered by generations of brokenness. Everything that surrounds them, from holes in their roof to gaps in their walls, and lack of any infrastructure outside their crooked, makeshift door is broken. What is there for them to believe that they are not also broken?
For them, our other families and our project teams are there to say, “We believe in you. You are not broken. Let’s take a look at a sponsorship budget to help stabilize your situation. Then we’ll talk about moving forward.”
Each sponsor who joins Unbound gives our parent leaders and social workers the ability to welcome one more family into this liberating force.
The personalized connection with the sponsor and our microprogram for the family help put modest, yet critical, resources of the world in motion to favor the poor and marginalized and invest in their ideas, passions and future … for a while, until they can move ahead on their own.
On a recent trip to Nairobi, Kenya, our project team told a group of visiting sponsors that the change they were creating was not just within their sponsored children, youth or elders and families. It was all of the change being created in their communities as well. To me, this captured how our program is not only a form of social justice for those in the program, but is a fundamental way to affect society through the support and development of local change agents who will carry on the positive changes in their own ways.
I think of our agronomy graduate in Bolivia who developed adobe greenhouses for conservation of water and expansion of whatever produce the region could grow, consume and sell. I think of our sponsored elderly grandmother in the Dominican Republic who learned to read and now counsels young women in her neighborhood. And I think of our group of dads in the Philippines who prepare the community for disaster response amidst annual typhoons.
These are the heroic and local dreams that yearn for our support. They represent the potential of living out social justice through the direct empowerment of striving individuals.
A humbling realization is that marginalized people will take 99 steps forward if we will take just one.
Take the first step to supporting social justice. Sponsor today.