Today is Blog Action Day, “an annual nonprofit event that aims to unite the world’s bloggers, podcasters and videocasters, to post about the same issue on the same day.” This year’s aim is to raise awareness and trigger a global discussion about poverty. I was particularly excited about this topic because it is one that has been on my mind for the last several years. It is a complex issue and one that I have been working to understand while doing my small part to increase awareness.
There are many political and activist organizations which offer resources and calls to action that I would encourage you to explore, and I will include a short list at the conclusion of this post. While I certainly appreciate and value the work of these organizations, I have always felt that change begins with one person reaching out to another. Sometimes it seems easier to throw money at problems, hoping to stick a finger in the dam of global poverty. However, there are groups who seek a different approach – to reach out and help one person or one small group of people gain access to the things we sometimes take for granted. Building one well in one community, offering a small loan to one individual so that they can grow their business and in turn help others and the economy within their community, reaching out to one child to give them hope for their future.
“One person can have a profound effect on another. And two people…well, two people can work miracles. They can change a whole town. They can change the world.” -Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider, writers of the TV show Northern Exposure
ASTEP in the Right Direction
When people make a one-on-one connection with someone in need it can alter their lives (and consequently, the lives of others) forever. This was the case for Mary Mitchell-Campbell, a successful Broadway music director whose volunteer work in India inspired her to make an impact on worldwide childhood poverty. She founded ASTEP (Artists Striving To End Poverty), an arts-based nonprofit that works directly with disadvantaged children, seeking to empower them through the arts. ASTEP has been a work in progress since about 2001, but received non-profit status two years ago and currently leads programs in the U.S., Africa, and India, connecting “artists who wish to share their talents with children who can benefit from artistic encounters.”
How does this combat poverty?
As you and I know, the arts have the power and potential to teach life skills (communication, self-expression, problem solving, decision making, perseverance) in ways that wind deeply into the heart, soul, and mind of the person/people whom they touch. Essential life skills are typically what a disadvantaged or impoverished child lacks, limiting their future and opportunities as they grow into adulthood. Amazingly, hope is present in the most hopeless of situations. Anyone who has worked with the disadvantaged can tell you about this surprising phenomenon. In these situations, however, it becomes difficult for those without opportunity to nourish this hope. The arts can provide the tools needed so that these children can invest in the hope they have for their future.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul.
And sings the tune
Without the words,
and never stops at all.
You Can Teach Anything with the Arts
ASTEP has designed programs for children in areas where war, disease, disaster, and poverty have ravaged villages and communities. These are places where childhood is marred by concerns that, in developed nations, even grown adults do not have to cope with; where trial and trauma has a psychological impact on the youth who live there. It is in this arena that the arts, and specifically ASTEP, have been able to make a positive impact. ASTEP recruits artists, students, and professionals who volunteer to share their time and talents as teachers in the organization’s programs. Their workshops, camps, and projects are developed to serve the needs of each, particular community and help children there deal with their own difficult circumstances. Watch this video diary of how one weekend made a difference in the lives of some South African youth.
How You Can Help
- Volunteer: artist opportunities are available in their active programs (currently in India, New York, and Florida) – click here for an application.
- Give Your Time: ASTEP runs a soup kitchen initiative in Manhattan every third Sunday of the month.
- Consider Donating: contribute money, supplies (like dance shoes), or equipment, or sponsor a volunteer.
- Become a Partner: combine the efforts of your non-profit with those of ASTEP.
- Purchase Tickets to ASTEP events.
- Assist the NYC Office: data entry and fundraising research opportunities available.
- Host a Benefit Concert: consider donating proceeds from your school’s dance recital!
- Set up a Change Drive: small change = BIG change.
- Purchase Items Online: Go to the volunteer page for links to sites which donate to ASTEP with the purchase of items, Broadway tickets, or even for searching online.
- Form an ASTEP Club at your college.
- Spread the Word: on your website or blog, at your studio, or to your friends.
Also, stay updated on ASTEP’s activities by signing up for their mailing list.
Worth Your Attention
Please check out these other organizations, all doing their part to bring an end to poverty.
ONE.org – Join the fight against global poverty.
How much do you know about world poverty? Take this quiz and find out!
Investigate and learn more: