Social Justice at Church of the Savior
From time to time, I mention activities or events I get involved with at my church, Church of the Savior UCC Knoxville. I love my church deeply because they are so involved with social justice movements. We have a Justice Action Team that helps put our congregants in touch with local justice organizations who need volunteers. Members of our church also participate in the FISH emergency food program, and Church of the Savior works with another local congregation to serve our local homeless families at the Volunteer Ministry Center. We also support the TN Equality Project, the TN Healthcare Campaign, and the Interfaith Worker Justice of East Tennessee. You might think with all of this service and social justice activity going on that we would have our hands full, but these are all activities that our adults are involved with; we also have a youth group that is active in serving, too!
The youth group at Church of the Savior participates in the service every week with taking up the offering, and they serve as mentors and teachers for the preschool and elementary-aged children of our church. The youth at COS are also active in mission and service work. Just this June, our youth spent a week in Atlanta to work with the homeless population there.
The Dump People of Nicaragua
Also over this summer, our youth pastor’s daughter spent some time in Nicaragua with people who are so destitute that they actually live IN a dump. Our youth pastor was so inspired by the work her daughter did, that she shared it with our youth group, who then decided they would raise money to help these people. Sometimes when you’re a kid and you want to help people in need, you feel like you can’t because maybe you can only give someone $5 or $10, and that hardly goes a long way. And kids don’t always organize or raise funds, so they may not know how to engage in their community this way. But our kids will be out in the Knoxville area looking for sponsors for their fundraising event, Gaming for the Ghetto, to raise money for the “Dump People” in Nicaragua.
What’s in a name?
When I first told my husband about this fundraiser, he was taken aback by the title, “Gaming for the Ghetto.” He said, “That’s a little biased, don’t you think?” And then I told him that a ghetto is a place where minority groups live typically because the pressures in their larger region are too oppressive. Historically a “ghetto” was a place set apart for Jewish people to be confined. The term “ghetto” comes from the Venetian word “gheto” or “ghet,” which literally translates to “waste.” So, the Jewish people were so oppressed that they were forced to live in waste because no other place in Italy would allow them to live there. That usage of the “ghetto” was used as early as 1084, and it is so discouraging that now in 2013, there are areas of the world still living the same way.
In Nicaragua, this “ghetto” is called “La Chureca,” which means “city dump.” La Chureca was the largest open-air landfill in all of Central America, and though it has been modernized into a waste dispose system, there are still acres upon acres of waste.
And over 400 families live there. In waste. In a literal ghetto.
How could this happen?
Aside from the general poverty and political strife already present in this part of the world, this part of Central America was hit by an earthquake in 1972, and it ruined about 70% of the city of Managuan. Thousands were killed, and more were injured. Tens of thousands of people were unemployed, and the poverty in Managuan meant that many families became scavengers just to survive. Many of these people turned to La Chureca to find anything they could sell or trade or possibly eat even, and they began to build shacks out of the rubble at La Chureca.
What can we do?
As adults for children, we want to paint the world as a happy, safe place for them so they grow up with confidence and in security. But the world isn’t like that, and while we may not want to shatter the hopes and dreams of children and youth, I think we as adults should be a bit more realistic with them about the suffering in the world. And when children and youth see suffering, they do exactly what we do as adults; they ask what they can do to help or prevent or change things. Most of the time it is with the hope that only comes from youthful innocence, but sometimes it is out of desperation, “Oh I’m just a kid, what can I do?”
Well, in this case, kids can do a lot actually. In our youth’s Sunday School last week, we had about 12 kids present. Just as an example of what we could do, if each of those kids gets three sponsors who pledge just $10 each, then we will have raised $360. To most of us in America, that is not a lot of money. But to the Dump People of Nicaragua, this could go a long way.
If you want to sponsor one of our youth, then please join our public Facebook event page for Gaming for the Ghetto. I will match up the sponsors with the youth this Sunday, and I will update you through that event page on Sunday evening. Each youth needs at least three sponsors, and sponsors can feel free to donate whatever they are comfortable giving. We would sincerely appreciate your help for the people living in La Chureca.
The money we raise will go to Frontier Horizon, an organization that helps orphans in the Ukraine and the children in Nicaragua. I invite you to check out their website for more information, but also to check out reviews of their organization here to see how others rate their experiences with Frontier Horizon.