People for Care and Learning sponsored the second symposium at Lee University to explore the reasons for poverty and challenge perceptions of the poor. The three-day event ends today.
People for Care and Learning International Director Fred Garmon said it is important to attract different people groups to get involved in fighting poverty.
“You throw the bait out there and allow people to see the whole spectrum of this issue of poverty,” he said. “Skill sets and passions are part of it. Some people are interested in education and some are interested in clean water initiatives. Some are interested in human trafficking issues and others in feeding programs. The list of different variables goes on and on. What attracts one person might not attract the other.”
Rachael Little, of Chattanooga, and Bradley LaChapell, of Appleton, Wis., both attended the symposium and they are interested in different aspects of the poverty cycle.
LaChapell, a 19-year-old freshman at Lee University, said the large impoverished population on the east side of the railroad tracks surprised him when he first arrived on the school’s well-manicured campus.
Appleton, Wis., is near Green Bay. According to the Census Bureau, LaChapell’s hometown is a city of 72,620 of which 8.2 percent of all families live in poverty. By comparison, Cleveland has a population of 41,280 of which 16.2 percent live in poverty.
“When I came to Cleveland, I noticed the large differential and the large gap between the high class and the low class and very little middle class. You can go right across the tracks here and you notice families who have housing but can’t provide for basic needs.”
LaChapell is in his second semester of studying for the ministry with a minor in business. He is generally interested in planting churches, but has not determined when, where or how he will do that just yet.
Little, 28, is a native Chattanoogan who recently returned to Southeast Tennessee after earning a bachelor of science degree in biology at Samford University and some physician assistant education in Pittsburgh.
“Human trafficking is the field I’m going to be working in. Poverty is related to trafficking, so I thought I should come,” she said.
She has always wanted to work in some sort of humanitarian and/or mission work. She became intrigued with human trafficking after hearing a speaker from Make Way Partners at Samford.
Poverty and human trafficking are connected on the supply side through advertisements in developing countries, she explained. The ads promise good employment opportunities, but those who respond are then forced into slavery.
In the United States, she said there are 16,000 to 20,000 people who are brought into the country and 100,000 children exploited every year.
“It’s a very real issue here and those numbers are conservative,” she said.
While LaChapell was surprised by the amount of poverty in Cleveland, he was equally surprised by outreach efforts by the university and community organizations such as The Caring Place, Cleveland Emergency Shelter, the university administration and student organizations on campus.
“I believe the university has a great mentality of service with our required service-learning. We all need 80 [hours] of community service to graduate,” he said. “However, I don’t think that’s enough.”
He views service to others as a calling rather than a requirement to graduate. He said the three-day “Breaking the Cycle of Poverty” symposium is an avenue for personal involvement instead simply academic.
“It brings issues in this community and issues around the world that are here right now and will remain until we do something about it,” he said.
And when LaChapell looks across the tracks, it makes him want to do something as a student and as a young individual who doesn’t have money to give away.
“I almost feel helpless, but they were talking earlier about how valuable your time is; how necessary it is to build relationships; it really encouraged me to give what I can,” he said. “As Shane said, we need to get so uncomfortable with the issues that are going on that it forces us to do something.”
Symposium speaker Shane Claiborne graduated from Eastern University and did graduate work at Princeton Seminary. His ministry experience is varied, from a 10-week stint working alongside Mother Teresa in Calcutta, to a year spent serving a wealthy megacongregation at Willow Creek Community Church outside Chicago. During the recent war in Iraq, he spent three weeks in Baghdad with the Iraq Peace Team. Claiborne is also a founding partner of The Simple Way, a faith community in inner-city Philadelphia that has helped birth and connects faith communities around the world.
LaChapell said the message he learned from Claiborne said feeling uncomfortable should lead to action rather other than averting one’s eyes and walking past the problem.
By attending the symposium, his short-term goal is to develop connections and resources.
“Coming here as a freshman student, it’s so easy to get enclosed in this bubble. This is an opportunity to see what efforts are already taking place in the community and get involved in those efforts,” he said.
Little said symposiums such as Break the Cycle of Poverty ’13 are a good first step in raising awareness of a problem in suburbs and business communities. She advocates stricter human trafficking laws similar to forfeiture laws that apply to drug traffickers.
Prostitution is only one form of human trafficking, but even that aspect is far from being a harmless criminal enterprise, as it is sometimes viewed.
“It’s harmful to the mind, body and spirit of the slave and it enslaves the buyers as well. It’s a loss of dignity,” she said.