“I came into this year thinking, ‘I don’t have anything where I’m affecting ministry directly … am I doing the work of a Christian?’” sophomore William Braden told the Record, putting his hands over his mouth in mock-consternation.
Then he discovered ONE, a poverty-fighting advocacy group that currently has more than 9 million members. He and sophomore Lyndi Tsering co-founded a ONE campus chapter for the first time in Wheaton, ushering in a new outlet for students of all backgrounds to serve the world.
ONE’s foundational goals are to lower poverty and preventable disease rates around the world, particularly in Africa. Partnered with many important, influential figures and companies, such as Apple, Bank of America and Coca-Cola, ONE aims to advocate for government involvement in effective poverty and disease-fighting policies across the globe. The non-partisan organization was co-founded by U2 lead singer Bono and Bobby Shriver on May 16, 2004. The organization enjoys a position as “a trusted voice on Capitol Hill with both parties when it comes to development and global health issues,” according to Michael Gerson (‘89), nationally syndicated opinion columnist for the Washington Post and a Senior Advisor at ONE.
Gerson first got involved with ONE before its conception. During his recent visit to campus, he told the Record that he met Bono while he was the Assistant to President George W. Bush for Policy and Strategic Planning. According to a 2010 article published by ONE, Gerson was a “key advocate for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), the fight against global sex trafficking and funding for women’s justice and empowerment issues” during his service to President Bush. Gerson’s meeting with Bono laste 2.5 hours. “I was just amazingly impressed with his knowledge and commitment,” said Gerson.
When Gerson left government employment in 2006, he wanted to stay involved with ONE because the group had been so dedicated to their non-partisan stance. “They were willing to praise success wherever it came from, even from a Republican Administration,” Gerson said, “and they’ve remained that way over the years … [while being] the main grassroots organization in America for this set of issues.”
The non-partisan aspect of ONE also attracted Braden. “I’m a political science major,” Braden told the Record, “but I don’t like to determine things along party lines, and so [ONE], a non-partisan organization, [is] focused on an issue that almost everyone can get behind, the elimination of extreme global poverty. That was really attractive to me: just seeing their commitment to just being non-partisan, but also their commitment to accomplishing their tasks.”
Tsering and Braden first found out about ONE during the 2018 Wheaton in Washington program, where they met Jared Noetzel (‘13), the Lead for Faith Strategy and Engagement at ONE, and Gerson. “We had a Q and A session there, and after it … [they told us], ‘We don’t have a campus chapter at Wheaton, but we’d love if you guys started one!’” Braden said, chuckling a little. “And so Lyndi and I looked at each other, and we said, “‘We should probably start one!’” There are currently 98 chapters on college campuses across the US.
The current executive board of the Wheaton ONE Chapter is made up of Braden, Tsering, sophomore Aaron Doci and sophomore Samantha Wolf. Tsering explained that there are a few different objectives for this year. “One of them,” Tsering said, “is educating, raising awareness on these issues, on the role of people in the US to advocate [for effective political strategies to decrease poverty and disease levels] and then how foreign aid is being used in other countries.” Another major part of student involvement is using their newfound knowledge about advocacy and aid to lobby for new legislation.
Already, the group has written letters to senators asking them to support the international affairs budget for fiscal year 2020, which will help fund international aid.
Braden and Tsering plan to connect with other chapters in Illinois. “Illinois congressional district six has their own chapter,” Tsering told the Record.
“We just met with the coordinator last night … so we might work [with them], which would be extending our campus [chapter into] the larger community in Illinois, but then we’ll pretty much stay regional.” Braden added that while the leadership of campus chapters nationwide is discussing strategies and staying in touch through group messaging, the mission of ONE is moldable to Wheaton’s campus. “I think what’s unique about Wheaton is that we can kind of talk about the faith aspect too,” Braden said. Although ONE is not a faith-based organization, it does include many people of faith. Gerson characterized it as a faith-friendly organization adding that “faith makes a big difference in living a balanced life, but it also provides a certain anthropology, a view of human beings, their rights and dignity, that requires you to be engaged in the world in some way or other in elevating that ideal.”
According to Gerson, it is the Christian’s duty to be involved in protecting and providing for those in need. “I think it should make a difference for every Christian,” he told the Record. “They have a certain view of the image of God present in every life, and that should really affect the way that they approach the kind of citizens they are as well.”
This respect for humanity is central to ONE’s method. ONE is dedicated to empowering individuals in their own location, respecting them as autonomous and enabling them to become self-sufficient. Braden emphasized that ONE specifically avoided the so called “savior-complex,” which foreign aid policies have often propagated. Instead of putting a bandaid on one issue in struggling countreis, ONE lobbies for 17 different developmental goals. “[They focus] on everything from energy infrastructure to cleaning up pollution in the oceans, clean water, providing food, healthcare, [and] educating women and children … The way that they also connect with the [local] government and make sure that there’s transparency with people in the country … really impressed me,” Tsering told the Record.
Her hope for the newborn Wheaton chapter is that it will be equally diverse in the skills that it grows. The chapter welcomes a diverse array of students from a variety of departmental and organizational backgrounds, in hopes that it will be better equipped and more well-rounded. “There [are] so many focus issues and ultimately all of us as Christians … should be playing a role,” Tsering said soberly, looking at Braden, who nodded. He said, “I started to think about how the ONE Campaign … [is] serving needs that need to be met, [just] in different ways.” Tsering agreed.
Her voice rising as she leaned forward, she put feeling into every word. “Working here to do what we can…. It’s so easy to get right in the ‘Wheaton bubble mindset,’ and finding ways to affect issues externally is difficult, but ONE has such a good opportunity with the campus chapter that is focusing on our campus community, on being present here, but then also doing … tangible actions that can actually make a difference.”