Change a life with action

By Joshua Johnson

A stinging wind rips through the downtown core, and Marc groans irritably as his crumpled body trembles with bitter cold. An empty coffee cup catches the occasional flying nickel from sympathizers who briskly rush past the grungy looking man rocking himself against a concrete wall. His fingers and toes have numbed long ago, and his stomach burns with hunger. A sniff of cocaine would suppress the appetite and bring feeling back to his extremities, but Marc is going clean, so he freezes and starves instead.

We’ve all passed men and women like Marc, people we have the power to help, but don’t. Students at the University of Calgary can learn just how much of a difference they can make, as the Faculty of Social Work prepares its second annual Social Action Day Fri., Feb. 3.

The faculty-exclusive event will offer experience with issues such as poverty, globalization, women’s and aboriginal rights, and homophobia. The day-long conference will cover skills such as lobbying politicians and engaging the media.

"We hope to create an understanding of the importance of social action," said Edward Lee, member of the organizing committee for Social Action Day. "An understanding that an individual can be a vehicle for change, whether big or small."

Lee feels Calgary could benefit from more participation in social activism, but acknowledges apathy has many roots. He believes the biggest root is that people are bombarded with so many images of suffering and misery that they are overwhelmed and feel they cannot make any meaningful difference.

He feels another problem haunting Alberta is politics.

"Our political climate isn’t very conducive to being socially aware," said Lee.

Politics will be a major focus this year, according to co-chair of the organizing committee Fifi Enyi, who feels governments have been guilty of continual cuts to social programs.

To help bring this message home, provincial New Democratic Party leader Raj Pannu will open the conference with a speech before students break off into separate, interactive groups.

Although students outside social work will not be given the opportunity to participate in Social Action Day, Enyi advises anyone interested in pursuing social change to educate themselves, think critically, find like-minded individuals and, above all, write to MPs or MLAs.

"[Writing letters] is something anyone can do, whether they’re in social work or not," said Enyi. "If you see something you disagree with, write a letter. Tell your friends to write a letter."

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