Last week the federal budget froze foreign aid funding, prompting a debate in some circles about what kind of society we are when we limit our support to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. Others point out that foreign aid is an important tool in combatting terrorism and supporting peace and democracy abroad.
The world is a scary place these days. Inequality is increasing, even as more people are being lifted out of poverty. Upheaval is evident in the results of Brexit and the 2016 American election. The mass movement of displaced people from Syria and Afghanistan and the disruption this creates, the nationalism, fear and suspicion it provokes in some quarters, can lead easily to a view that the world is unsettled, unpredictable, and the future is to be feared.
Most of us can’t do much to influence geopolitical events. We are limited in how much sway we have over the decisions made by our own government or governments around the world. But there are things we can do to affect change.
In our individual lives, we can choose to act in ways that decrease inequality and honour human dignity. We can speak to one another with kindness and openness, rather than with judgement and harsh words. We can count our blessings rather than lament the material goods we don’t have. We can remember that more people in the would want peace than war, and more people want to honour human dignity than destroy it.
I witnessed firsthand the human impulse for self-determination, human dignity and community building in my visits to India with Opportunity International Australia. The women I met gave generously of their energy and their few resources to build stronger families and communities. With just very small loans they are making a very big difference: building businesses, creating jobs, supporting their children to go to school, and training community health workers to support other families.
I believe the individual actions of each of us can create real change. I believe our individual choices matter: they affect the people around us, and through the work of Opportunity our choices can create positive opportunity for people we will never meet.
At a time when we might feel powerless it is important to remember that one’s own choices are powerful. We can choose how to act, think, and how to use our gifts - including our financial resources – to support peace and opportunity for our fellow human beings.