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Brandeis students unite as ONE against poverty

By chriscal

Section: Features

January 18, 2008

Sam Vaghar, ’08, probably never envisioned that after reading The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs in 2005 he would be attending a school that was in second place among 100 other colleges nationwide in a competition to end the poverty which Sachs addresses. In his book, Sachs, an economist at Columbia University, calls for a social movement to address extreme global poverty. After reading this book and watching the Live 8 concerts which called for a “strong political lobby for the world’s poor,” Vaghar became involved with the ONE campaign, since these cultural factors showed him the movement would be “great to get involved in.”

Vaghar interned with the ONE campaign in Washington, D.C. over the summer. A part of Positive Foundations at Brandeis, he knew his internship would allow him to make connections that would help both this group and ONE Brandeis. Of ONE, Vaghar said, “it’s a growing movement. It’s not just a campaign, but really a movement…to make poverty history.”

Over the summer, he worked with a field team, witnessing how the campaign was run nationally. Of his experience, Vaghar said “it was really exciting being there.” He recalled the enthusiasm associated with becoming involved in the movement. As part of his duties, Vaghar was responsible for sending out shirts and ONE wristbands. He recalled how some days he sent out 5 or 6 boxes a day because there was such a demand from the many people who wanted to become involved in the movement.

The ONE campaign is a nation-wide effort to spread awareness about pressing issues such as global poverty, disease and hunger and the subsequent initiatives to combat these issues in some of the world’s most poverty-stricken countries. The campaign also urges politicians and public officials to increase the efforts to fight extreme poverty and AIDS through legislation. ONE seeks to improve the lives of the poor in other countries by allotting a larger portion of the US budget towards making available basic needs such as health, clean water and food, and education.

The ONE campaign includes over 2.4 million people and works with colleges, churches and other ground networks to raise awareness. Their goals include debt cancellation, education and fairer trade for poor countries, among others. ONE seeks to promote the Millennium Development Goals which aim to end poverty.

ONE issued a challenge to colleges to become more involved in the fight to end poverty. Colleges from across the country are currently in a competition involving certain challenges that will advance them in the standings by awarding points for their respective schools. There is a list of “different initiatives and projects” groups can partake in, as Sara Hammerschlag, ’10, Executive Director of ONE Brandeis, explained. Each initiative hosts a certain amount of points the schools can earn for completing the challenges. Schools complete tasks, send in proof that they have done so, and are awarded the respective points.

There are 100 ways that schools can earn points, ranging from 10 points for inviting someone to become involved in the campaign through the ONE website to 50,000 points for completing all 100 tasks. Schools can blog about ONE, host speakers on campus, or even take pictures of their pets in ONE gear to earn points

Brandeis currently boasts the second place position in the ONE campus challenge. Of Brandeis’ position as 2nd among colleges, Vaghar said, “it’s great, it’s phenomenal.” Like his fellow members, he clarified how the competition itself is not so much about the competition, describing how colleges are “competing with each other, but really challenging each other to engage students on their respective campuses.” He called it an effort to “make these crises real and tangible and relevant to students across the country and it’s been really effective.”

Brandeis has been involved in the ONE campaign informally for the past year and more formally the past semester, as Hammerschlag, explained. ONE Brandeis is an “outgrowth of Positive Foundations,” Hammerschlag said.

Vaghar explained that Brandeis has “focused on actions that really delivered direct results” such as calling presidential candidates. Through this initiative, presidential candidates went on record to share their plans to address extreme poverty, with many posting responses on ONE’s website.

Hammerschlag described this initiative that helped spur Brandeis’ lead. Between 30-40 people took part in the phone bank. “There was a very limited time initiative to call… presidential candidates and promote the ONE agenda,” she explained. It was this event which earned ONE Brandeis a significant amount of points, enabling them to move ahead in the standings.

Allyson Goldsmith, ’10, has been involved with ONE Brandeis since its start and refers to the competition as a “great way to raise awareness about poverty among college students.” Goldsmith feels that the actions ONE Brandeis has taken thus far have raised lots of awareness, which she believes is “really important.”

Of her experience thus far, Goldsmith said “it’s been great. I’ve really enjoyed it.” To this end, she referenced the sense of empowerment she has gained through initiatives such as reaching out to presidential candidates to urge them to take action. “Calling all the presidential candidates was really empowering in a lot of ways and it was really great to see that every single candidate issued a statement after our call in day.” This event had special meaning for Goldsmith, as it was one which she helped organize.

As their myBrandeis page says, ONE Brandeis seeks to “mobilize the Brandeis campus around the initiatives and goals of the ONE campaign – ‘The campaign to make poverty history’ – by raising awareness about poverty, hunger, and disease, and the worldwide efforts being made to combat them. The ONE Campaign is a grassroots movement to encourage our elected officials to better and more effectively allocate US public aid.”

Currently, ONE Brandeis is growing in numbers and has a committed core group that does most of the planning for events and such. Hammerschlag described ONE Brandeis as a “pretty extensive group.”

Describing her inspiration for becoming involved in the ONE campaign, Hammerschlag mentioned her previous involvement in Positive Foundations. Positive Foundations had worked a bit with ONE in the past, but once they heard about the ONE competition, they expressed their desires to become more involved.

Hammerschlag explained how she’d “kind of danced around the idea of [politically-oriented anti-poverty] work for a while, so I thought it was just something really great and tangible to take on and a competition is a great way to get involved..and [take] one big giant step and make the splash.” Thus far, Hammerschlag says her experience working with ONE has been “hugely positive” due to her belief that the actions ONE takes are great for fighting poverty, hunger, and disease worldwide, as well as for Brandeis.

Of ONE Brandeis’ position of second nationwide among colleges, Hammerschlag exclaimed “it’s fantastic. We’re one of the smallest schools competing and we’ve made a huge jump [from number 39 to 2] and we stayed there for about two months so it’s really great knowing that [so many] people on campus have heard about it and have really taken the initiative to become involved and help us stay high in the rankings.”

She mentioned also, how great it was to see people becoming so involved right after ONE Brandeis had become a recognized club. Before the phone bank initiative, ONE Brandeis had only taken small action and “most of [their] initiatives to gain points were not really large events,” as Hammerschlag explained. Prior to phone banking, they had taken small actions, such as taking a picture of the Brandeis cheerleading team wearing ONE bands and having people endorse ONE.

Regarding Brandeis’ status as 2nd in the nation among colleges in the ONE competition, Goldsmith shared her excitement. “I think it’s really amazing [and] it shows the dedication that Brandeis students have to end extreme poverty which I think is really, really great.”

She explained how ultimately, it is the knowledge that comes along with the whole experience that is most important. She said, “it’s not really about the competition…in a lot of ways for me, it’s about doing the things that then raise the awareness. And then of course we get points for it.”

Hammerschlag echoed Goldsmith’s sentiments, emphasizing how the competition itself draws attention to the issues themselves, and gaining points is a bonus. She added that most of the initiatives that are a part of the competition were events Brandeis was planning to hold anyway.

Hammerschlag expressed her optimism and excitement for the coming semester and the two or three events ONE Brandeis has in the works. This semester, ONE Brandeis hopes to host several larger events which Hammerschlag believes will help the Brandeis community to become more involved in ONE’s issues.

In January, the start of phase two of the competition commenced. In this phase, ONE flew the representatives from the top 100 schools to Washington D.C. to partake in the three-day Power 100 Summit. In February, the beginning of phase three, ONE will give the top 10 schools $1,000 grants to help fund programs that will fight poverty.

Rajiv Ramakrishnan ’10 recently represented ONE Brandeis at the Power 100 Summit in Washington D.C. in early January. ONE flew out representatives from the top 100 schools in the competition to attend this all-expenses-paid event. During this three day event, participants were able to speak with each other, network, and listen to esteemed speakers, such as specialists from the World Bank and the U.S. Agency for International Development, and retired politicians. Newt Gingrich was one such speaker. Ramakrishnan said, “all in all, it was a great experience,” speaking of the opportunities the event afforded students to “challenge the speakers and get their ideas across.”

His role as head of Positive Foundations inspired Ramakrishnan to become involved in ONE. He emphasized the importance of initiatives, such as calling presidential candidates, since “if we want to do anything large-scale, it’s going to take a significant effort from our elected officials and we need to make sure that they make this a priority.”

Speaking of ONE’s accomplishments thus far, Ramakrishnan described how through the campaign, Liberia’s debt was canceled. Members of the ONE campaign e-mailed the International Monetary Fund several thousand times over one week, crashing the IMF’s servers. The e-mails all urged the IMF to cancel Liberia’s debt, and they ultimately were moved to do so.

Aka Kovacikova ’11 is also involved in ONE Brandeis because she believes the issues ONE seeks to address are “really important” and further alluded to the benefit of national coverage and support for ONE versus being in Positive Foundations. “One thing that we didn’t have with Positive Foundations was [the] national [coverage] and so with ONE we get a lot more support and we [are] able to do a lot more, like political lobbying.” Kovacikova shared her excitement over Brandeis’ status as 2nd nationwide among colleges, saying this shows “how important this issue is to all of us on campus.”

Members of ONE Brandeis encourage students to become involved in the campaign and expressed their hopes that every Brandeis student will register for the event. In doing so, these students will be able to vote among the top 10 schools for their favorite anti-poverty event. The school receiving the most votes will win. With all members of the Brandeis community registered, ONE Brandeis’ chances of winning the competition will increase substantially. Students can register at

http://www.one.org/campus/mycampus.html?school_id=209.

Hammerschlag also encourages anyone who interested in the ONE campaign to sign up for ONE Brandeis’ listserv at one@lists.brandeis.edu to get updates, meeting times, and potentially become more involved and help with planning events.

Kovacikova mentioned how ONE Brandeis is “always looking for new members. All you have to do to be involved is to care and show up for our meetings. We’d be more than happy to take anyone, really.”

Vaghar spoke with Congressman Barney Frank this summer, asking him what it would really take to make a difference. Frank told him that the campaign could have millions of Americans involved, but what would really make a difference is when people call the office or visit congressmen. To this extent, Vaghar agreed, saying that “we need more people to be more and more engaged” and expressed ONE’s aim to do everything they can to accomplish this goal.

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