One of the highlights of this week was a conference I was fortunate enough to attend as a representative for ONE. The RESULTS conference was focused on educating and discussing various ways to engage Congress in the fight to end extreme poverty worldwide. I was able to hear from Helen Evans, the interim CEO of The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), the organization that fought hard to ensure that the government would provide $450 million over three years for vaccinations to save 4 million children’s lives. I also heard from Mark Dybul who, during the Bush Administration, played a large part in the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Among all of this talk about the success of PEPFAR and GAVI, what stood out most to me was one woman’s comment during the question and answer part of the lecture. She spoke of her grandchildren, whose foreign nanny had tuberculosis. Her grandchildren, who were not living in a developing country nor facing extreme poverty, were infected with tuberculosis and had to undergo the nine-month medication process to ensure that the virus did not become active. She did not tell this part of the story, but I know about this part. I know because I also tested positive for tuberculosis when I was working in a hospital during my senior year of high school. Interestingly enough, Rich Stearns also tells a story about his own son who tested positive for tuberculosis. I will never know where I contracted it from, but I do know that it was a hassle to take the medication for nine months. Yet it was a hassle that I easily took for granted. So many children in developing countries are faced with tuberculosis. Many times, this is a death sentence for them because of the simple lack of vaccines and medication that people in the U.S., like me, take for granted.
I’m still having a hard time seeing how I can make a difference in the lives of these children, who are living in extreme poverty without access to the most basic needs in life. I feel so far removed from them and helpless. I want to help but I don’t know how. I realized this week that the first step to figuring this out is to acknowledge that I have a responsibility to advocate for these children. I have to because I can. The difference between them and me is that I was able to take the medication for tuberculosis and because of this, I can still go to school without being ostracized for my disease. I can get and keep a job without having to miss days of work because of constant illness. I want them to have this too. Changing my mindset is my first step. This includes realizing the full meaning of “whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” and how it must apply to every part of my life (Matthew 25:40).