Six years ago, I listened intently as Zainab Bangura described the horrors of her war-torn home country of Sierra Leone. It was a nation cannibalizing itself. Armed rebel gangs murdered and mutilated civilians and raped infants. Listening to her discuss the work she had done to promote democracy and her near-death experiences at the hands of violent thugs was one of the most inspiring moments of my college career.
I continued to learn about the disaster in Sierra Leone. I read about the brutal rebel leaders, the root causes of state collapse and the problems destabilizing the country. My knowledge became a term paper, ten pages of moral outrage, political science and policy. It never went beyond my professor’s desk.
I came out of the experience better equipped to write another paper. Meanwhile, the suffering in Sierra Leone continued. No one laid down their gun because a college kid was now aware of the problem.
I felt helpless to change the situation and frustrated that the murmur of international response was not achieving any progress. In that situation, it was easy to become cynical, to whimper about the insignificance of a single voice and the limits of what an individual could accomplish. It was harder to admit that the lack of international response was due in large part to the fact that students like me never made it an issue for Congress.
Recently, I finally did something to translate my knowledge and concern into something more tangible. I wrote to Senator Allard, Senator Salazar and Congresswoman Musgrave. I let them know that I cared about Sierra Leone and that I wanted to see men like Charles Taylor, the former president of neighboring Liberia who supported the atrocities, brought to justice.
Writing members of Congress is a simple act that can make a tremendous difference. While we can’t all work for overseas NGOs to address the problems of the world, each of us can let Congress know that we care about those problems and want them to take action. Particularly for humanitarian issues – fighting poverty, AIDS, and sexual slavery – there is broad support in both political parties and among mainstream Americans. One of the reasons Congress has not spent more time addressing those problems is because so many of us fail to let them know we want them to.
If you want Congress to be more involved in foreign aid, or any other matter, call, e-mail or write to let them know. Contact information for your representatives is easily accessible on the web (www.firstgov.gov).
Zainab Bangura was back in America this summer. She met with President Bush in July as one of four recipients of the 2006 National Endowment for Democracy Award.
President Bush listened, as I did, to her inspiring story. Unlike me, he had already been a strong influence in creating stability in Liberia and making sure Charles Taylor was tried for his war crimes.
The president and Congress really do care about many of the humanitarian problems in the world. They are well informed and often aware of effective measures to provide help in the matters, but they need to know that their constituents support those measures.
The college experience offers great opportunities to learn about the world, but all the knowledge in the world won’t lead to any change unless we care enough to take meaningful action. Especially for issues that seem too global and entrenched for a student in Colorado to make any difference, voicing your concerns to Congress is one of the most effective means to address them.
If you care about government policy, let Congress know. Your voices matter.
Daniel Gibson-Reinemer is a master’s student in fishery and wildlife biology. His column appears occasionally in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org