Speak Truth to Power: Campus-Wide Focus on Human Rights

By Katelin Haley
Peace & Justice Editor

As you may have noticed, Thanksgiving break is extra long this year, going from November 23rd to December 1st.  During this time, Marywood will be utilized by the international community as the host for the 6th Annual Interparliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom.  This conference is one of the events leading to a campus focus on human rights awareness.  The president of Marywood, Sr. Anne Munley, is spearheading efforts to create an awareness across campus and hopes that “our semester focus on human rights awareness will help all of us to deepen our understanding of what it truly means ‘to live responsibly in a diverse and interdependent world.  The mission and Catholic identity of Marywood compel us to be global citizens and to live our core values of respect for each person, empowerment, service, and commitment to excellence.” A variety of events focusing on human rights issues will take place throughout the semester beginning with the fall Convocation on October 24th.  Based upon the stories of human rights activists compiled in the book “Speak Truth to Power” by Kerry Kennedy, the presentation at the Convocation will include a play spoken through the voices of human rights activists across the world.

“Speak Truth to Power” began as a collection of the stories of human rights activists, turned into a book, followed by a play, a movie, a photographic exhibit, and numerous other programs carried out across the globe.  The movement-inspiring book features stories of well known activists such as holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel, justice advocate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and death penalty abolitionist Sister Helen Prejean as well as until now untold stories of Kenyan environmentalist and feminist Wangari Maathi, former sex slave Juliana Dogbadzi, and Sudanese political activist Anonymous, who cannot even be named for fear of the repercussions that they may face.  Sr. Anne best summarizes the message of the “Speak Truth to Power” program as “one person can make a difference” and believes that “committed communities have an extraordinary capacity to contribute to the common good”.

There are ways for you to support the activists, namely by learning more about them.  Featured in this issue of the Wood Word is Muhammad Yunus, an economist from Bangladesh.  Yunus is the founder of the Grameen Bank, the world’s largest and most successful microcredit institution.  Microcredit is the lending of small, low or no interest loans to persons who would not be able to obtain a loan from a commercial bank.  According to Yunus, commercial banks “absolutely blocked credit to the poor by demanding something no poor person has access to: namely, collateral.”  The Grameen bank, and other microcredit institutions, provide the majority of their loans to women.  Women are typically biased against by commercial banks and may not have experience with handling money as their husbands typically take care of the finances of the family.  Yunus noted that money that went to families through women benefited the families much more than funds that went through men.  He observed that women tend to be more cautious than men and “had a longer vision; they could see a way out of poverty and had the discipline to carry out their plans.”  Today, the 94% of the loans given by the Grameen bank go to women.

Loaning primarily to women is only one of the venues in which the Grameen Bank promotes change.  Yunus feels that “the Grameen bank is involved in a process of transformation” that begins with women being empowered.  When women become empowered, “they look at themselves, and at what they can do.  They are making economic progress and alongside that, making decisions about their personal lives.”  These decisions may begin with choosing to have smaller families, which in turn leads to healthier children, and then a greater number of children obtaining higher education.  The simple step of lending to women has encouraged change far beyond one person and could lead to a changed village, nation, and world.

Microcredit or microlending is a process that you can become directly involved in by lending a small loan or portion of a loan through a variety of organizations.  A recently popular non-profit organization, Kiva, is based upon Yunus’ principles of microcredit and allows you to directly loan to an entrepreneur in a variety of locations across the globe.  Kiva connects people across the globe by allowing you the investor to work with other investors to fulfill a loan amount for a person in need.  You can browse the profiles of the entrepreneurs in need to find a business that you desire to support.  Once you’ve found your match, you can loan as little as $25 and your loan will be combined with the loans of others to fulfill the larger sum requested by the entrepreneur.  Over the 6-12 months following the distribution of the loan, you will be repaid in increments and have the opportunity to either re-lend that money to another person in need or get your money back.  To learn more about Kiva, visit Kiva.org and take a look.  It is just one small thing that you can do to “Speak Truth to Power”.

*To learn more about Speak Truth to Power, visit the library and request a copy of the book “Speak Truth to Power” or visit www.speaktruthtopower.org*

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