From Compassion to Advocacy

The following article was originally written for and published in in the Winter 2013 edition of ‘Siol’ the newsletter of the Edmund Rice Schools Trust in Ireland.

STAND UP 072 Personal encounters with those who experience suffering, loss, deprivation and injustice have the power to move us to compassion. Stories in the media that bring home to us the plight of those who experience hunger, poverty, lack of opportunity and a denial of their rights can have a similar effect on us.

Compassion is a central value in all of the great religions of the world, including Christianity, and compassion was what initially moved Edmund Rice to commence his work of education for the poor when he observed the street children of Waterford.

The emotion of compassion leads to a desire to help in some way. In my experience, students in Edmund Rice schools are very generous in responding compassionately when made aware of the needs of others. Usually that has been through such things as fundraising and making donations or in visiting and spending time with people – all of which is good and very important.

However there is also another way of effectively channeling our compassion. A way that addresses the underlying causes of the situation that arouses our compassion rather than by responding to the symptoms.

This involves advocacy which has been defined as “the organized influencing of decision makers.” In other words, by speaking up for the rights of others or by encouraging them to speak for themselves in order to persuade those who have the power to do so, to change situations.

In 2007, the Christian Brothers and Presentation Brothers jointly established Edmund Rice International (ERI) in Geneva in order to promote engagement in advocacy across the Edmund Rice Network around the world, and to bring issues of concern to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. The particular focus of ERI is the rights of children and young people, particularly in regard to education, and the care of our planet earth which our young people will inherit.

As a way of encouraging involvement in advocacy in schools, ERI has invited each Edmund Rice school to appoint a youth ambassador to help promote and support advocacy initiatives in the schools and to liaise with other ambassadors in the more than thirty countries in which the Edmund Rice Network has a presence.

One example of student led advocacy is in India where students are campaigning for the Indian government to honour its commitment to allocate 9% of it annual budget to education and health, thereby assuring all Indian children of the chance to receive an education – the ‘Nine is Mine’ campaign. A campaign that has been supported by other Edmund Rice schools around the world.

Brian Bond ERI

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