On-campus awareness of a different kind

Justin Runquist

The galas, the parties, the big events: they never end here at Villanova. And, Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, you’ve met your match!

Drum roll, please. Meet the rich, the sparkling, the self-centered students who patrol this campus: the new stars of our first annual Gucci and Gluttony Unconsciousness Week.

The past week, we cast our spotlight on the poor people of the world – the 1.2 billion folks who go to bed hungry every night. Just as we’ve done for the 32nd straight year, we prayed for them, we donated money to them and we hurt for them. And for the 32nd straight year, the honeymoon period of HHAW will soon wear off, as we softly, gently, smoothly return to our own comfy lives.

But don’t fret. This year is different. Let’s keep the poverty gala going. There are more people in need. More people to feed. Our spotlight now moves away from the poor, hungry people of Ethiopia and Haiti and onto a new crowd to talk about and pray for.

It’s about time that we, rather than the poor, grab center stage. 30,000 children quietly die around the world each day, but the wealthy go just as unnoticed. We drive our SUVs to school, we glue ourselves to “The Apprentice,” we prance around campus and life with somewhere important to go. Yet sometimes I think it’s us, not the hungry, that need more immediate help, that miss the point of being human, that forget we’re part of the world community.

Quite symbolic of the wealthy’s lifelong struggle with egocentricity, GGUW will only last five days. They’ll be a tough five days, but I invite you to consider participating. The week kicks off by confronting our rich butts on Friday, and the week culminates on Tuesday with a vacation for actual thanksgiving on Thanksgiving. Over the past two weeks, my column concentrated on changing our attitudes as world citizens. This week, the focus is turns to actual action … towards leaving the poverty theme park of HHAW, going forth into the world and making something positive actually happen.

Welcome to Friday. Welcome to humanity. For those who didn’t fast for HHAW yesterday, let’s skip our lunch today. This is the first and last time we’ll focus only on ourselves this week, so enjoy it. As we slither around, aching for a cheesesteak, let’s think of the 842 million of these people suffer from chronic hunger. Every time we breathe, every time we blink, let’s think of another child dying from hunger or a preventable disease. According to Oxfam, humanity loses a child every 2.9 seconds. That’s 30,000 children a day.

As we forgo our nutritious daily lunch, let’s give thanks that we’ve been born into the wealthiest top 15 percent of the world’s population. But we can’t just sit there. People, just like us, are starving and dying. We can take this a step further, we can work to change this.

People in our own communities need help, and on Saturday we should consider ways to uplift them. Weekend events like Handicapped Encounter Christ, Special Olympics 2005 and Habitat Saturdays are always needy for help. And we’re needy for them. It’s a humbling experience working with a handicapped person or the under-privileged youth of inner-city Philadelphia. For once, we step away from our laptops and super-important homework and realize that we’re not the center of the universe.

By Sunday, while we might have to forgo playing Grand Theft Auto, we should consider exploring the Campus Ministry website for Habitat for Humanity and Global Outreach trips over Spring Break 2005. While hundreds of Villanovans embark on these trips each year, nearly 10,000 Villanovans reside on this campus. That’s not enough. We can do better.

Applying for a break trip is our first step towards becoming world citizens. Habitat efforts produce homes for needy families living domestically, Global Outreach changes lives by bringing the First and Third Worlds together. Global Outreach is even earning students credits nowadays: after a trip to Ayacucho, Peru and Time and time again, Villanovans return from these experiences fulfilled … just beginning to understand their role in the larger world.

By Monday, we should contemplate raising some cash to donate something meaningful. Guys might consider taking leftover money from their beer funds. Sorority girls might think of skimping on their feel-good gifts budget. For $30, such groups could easily buy water filters for suffering Guatemalan families. For $30, such groups could help support VU alumnus Matt Nespoli build potable water systems in Nicaragua. For $30, we could help sponsor a Central American child for a month of valuable education.

A small, yet powerful change is happening within us by Tuesday. We’ve already uplifted the poor and marginalized with our own hands. But, with all the power we enjoy as Americans, we can accomplish so much more. Two weeks ago, we used that power to vote for political leaders who can influence the world. But that isn’t enough. We can do better. We can join with Bread for the World and, on the behalf of those scraping for food, we can write heartfelt letters to our Congressmen and we can boycott organizations who are socially irresponsible.

As one Villanova mother wrote me this week: “At one time my husband and I refused to pay the portion of our phone tax which went to defense spending. It seems like such a small thing to do but (the company) had to change some practices … when faced with a world-wide boycott. Holding governments or corporations accountable for their actions is patriotic and a good thing to do.”

If we choose, the memories of Gucci and Gluttony Unconsciousness Week could fade away along with our slow crawl into rush-hour, on the way home for Thanksgiving Break. Tuesday night will be the end of fulfilling five days – devoted to fighting not just poverty, but our own egos. We will have crawled to the depths of humanity to realize our good fortune. We will have used our privileges to help, if just marginally, those who deserve marginal contributions of food much more than us. But most of all, we will be giving thanks – to God’s grace, to opportunity, to the hungry and homeless who reveal these truths to us.

In the spirit of GGUW, we don’t have to surrender our Gucci sunglasses, we don’t have to fully surrender our gluttonous ways, but we should definitely surrender to our conscious. We can’t turn our backs on the 25 million coffee growers struggling to earn a living wage. We can’t turn from the handicapped people who could benefit from an errand to Acme.

The world is calling us. Talking just isn’t good enough anymore. It’s time for us to use our own hands to make something happen. And there’s no better thanksgiving than that.