VCSC hosts “Encounter Poverty” event to raise campus awareness

Justin Jones

The Volunteer and Community Service Center organized an event called “Encounter Poverty: Two Perspectives” Thursday, Sept. 4 to provide students with multiple perspectives on the subject of poverty and the specific problems facing aid workers from nation to nation.
In cooperation with Appleton Alliance Church, the VCSC brought together Antonio “Jesus” Rojas of Peru and Thomas Traore of Burkina Faso to discuss personal experiences with poverty in their countries.
Rojas explained that he has been dealing with poverty since childhood. In Peru, more than a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. He was born into a lower class family and was a direct witness to the hardships of the poor.
Rojas and his organization Corazones Felices, or Happy Hearts, have made significant steps towards providing children with food to eat, means to attain education and safety from the growing levels of drug and gang related violence in certain areas.
Rojas admits that the challenges facing him were daunting. He said, “I felt this was a big city and I was just one, small man.” But 12 years into their effort, Corazones Felices has helped more than 1,500 families.
Rojas and his team have fought hard to reduce high rates of divorce and domestic violence by providing families with weekend programs and meetings. Corazones Felices is also helping more than 200 children pay for education and medical treatment. “Children without dreams, now dream,” said Rojas.
Traore’s fight against poverty is in some ways even more basic than that of Rojas and Corazones Felices. Burkina Faso, considered the third poorest nation on earth by the U.N., is only in its 15th year of independence from France and is still struggling to provide for its poorer citizens.
Village residents still have to walk one to two miles just for water, and, according to Traore, the water is often of poor quality. Thus, much of Traore’s work involves drilling wells closer to villages and trying to keep them open and clean.
Beyond that, Traore, with the help of Compassion International, is also trying to get children back in school by providing them with free education and instituting “scholar canteen” programs, through which children can eat a prepared meal at school free of charge. Traore says he wants to help the “whole person” and that “a child with an empty stomach has no ears.”
The presentations provided commentary about both the universal and specific aspects of fighting poverty around the world. Sylwia Matlosz ’12, social justice programs coordinator for the VCSC, said, “Where their talks overlap and diverge says a lot about the face of poverty in these countries. There are common, inherent problems when dealing with poverty, but. there is not one generalizable solution.”
The VCSC has more events in the works as part of the ongoing Social Justice Series and is constantly collaborating with other on-campus organizations to further the cause of social justice here at Lawrence.