Halloween is an exciting time at the University. With crazy parties and students dressed in costumes, campus is electrified for about five days each October. But while everyone was heading out to Salvation Army to put the last touches on their costumes, we couldn’t help but think about what’s really scary this Halloween season: the reality that more than 1.4 billion people are living in poverty worldwide. Today, living in poverty means living on less than $1.25 per day, which is the cost of a small coffee at Espresso Royale. Not scared yet?
Then maybe this will scare you: Every day, more than 1,000 babies are born with HIV and more than half will die before their second birthday. What’s even worse is that there is a way to stop transmission of HIV from mother to child, and we simply aren’t doing enough. Antiretroviral treatment for HIV/AIDS is inexpensive (about $0.40 per day, actually) and if administered correctly before birth and during breastfeeding, the risk of transmission from mother to child is as low as 2 percent. And this is a decrease from 35 percent from just a few years ago. With the science and technology in place, all we need to build is the political will to provide access to these life-saving medications to those who need it most.
Have you ever purchased a shirt from GAP that says INSPI(RED)? Or bought a coffee at Starbucks with your (RED) gift card? These purchases support Product (RED) — an organization that raises awareness and funds for the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The Global Fund is one of our most powerful tools. In less than a decade, it has saved 5.7 million lives by providing AIDS treatment for 2.8 million people, tuberculosis treatment for 7 million people and 122 million bednets to protect families from malaria. The successes are abundant. We know the solution. It is working. And this is where college students come in.
As leaders of ONE — a poverty-fighting grassroots advocacy organization on campus — we work to educate University students about the hardships of extreme poverty. More importantly, though, we provide students with the opportunity to help. Our job as members of the organization is to pressure local, national and international institutions to join this fight. This fall, instead of hitting up numerous residence hall pregames and fraternity houses, we will be hitting up the residents of Ann Arbor to talk about our role in ensuring that no child is born with HIV by 2015. You will have seen us as the only students dressed up as “education” or “HIV/AIDS” on Halloween.
Instead of asking for candy at residents’ doorsteps, we will have a different request: Help Ann Arbor become the first city in Michigan to become a “City of ONE.” As a City of ONE, Ann Arbor, along with the support of our city council and mayor, will lobby members of the U.S. Congress and the state and federal administration to create the change we need. We will become a leading district of ONE’s membership (currently over 2.7 million Americans), giving us more legitimacy and backing in Congress. As we educate Ann Arbor residents and University students about our cause and their ability to affect real change, we will gather signatures on a letter to Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje. ONE members will present this information to the Ann Arbor City Council on Thursday evening to begin the process of officially proclaiming us a City of ONE.
The University has been a leader in ONE’s movement since its introduction to campus in 2008. Last year, we gathered thousands of letters and petitions and made phone calls to our senators. In response, U.S. Senator Carl Levin signed on to the International Affairs Budget Request, citing the pressure from University students as his motive. Our chapter beat over 2,000 schools across the country to be named the number one poverty-fighting school in America based on our advocacy and education efforts. We must continue our tradition as the leaders in the fight against global poverty by doing our part this season.
Please take a few minutes in between costume changes to think about what is really scary about the world today. Don’t let the daunting and horrific numbers get you down, though. We have the ability to end extreme poverty and disease. All we need is your voice. Go to www.one.org for more information.
Stephanie Parrish is the founder of ONE Campaign at the University of Michigan.