by Glenda Rocas
Today, I am asked to share on the mission vision of WSCF. What I am going to share with you is a personal reflection brought by my long and continuing journey with WSCF. It is through the Federation that I had been awakened with the importance of confronting and dealing with the women question. It is in my involvement with the Federation that I had a chance to have a genuine fellowship with people of different color, different faith background and people who view things, issues and situation differently. Yet, despite all these differences, friendships and solidarities are built. Perhaps mine and your personal journey of experience in the Federation is a burning proof that what John R. Mott and the rest of the vibrant youths who had envisioned more than a hundred years ago of an ecumenical community amongst student organisations/movement continue to burn brightly among the current generation of SCMs around the world:
WSCF was founded to encourage and coordinate the work of existing national student Christian movements as well as stimulate the formation of united student movements in countries where they did not exist. The formation of WSCF was a radical step toward ecumenical cooperation at a time when no other worldwide non-Roman catholic Christian agency based on independent national organisations.
As we go on with our work of building ecumenical ties, it is of utmost importance for us not to depart from the core of our Christianity which has primarily driven us to work for the Oikomene.
In the old Testament, Israelites were promised by Yahweh of a land flowing with milk and honey, same way in the new testament that Christ had hoped prosperity and abundance for his people, John 10:11 “I came that they might have life and have it to the full.
As Christians, especially in this time of a worldwide economic crisis wreaking havoc in the lives of millions all over the world, WSCF need not only be firm in its vision but should genuinely commit itself towards the realisation of the vision that Christ has laid out. Likewise, vision alone cannot sustain a movement, vision has to be coupled with contextualised strategy and adopt a specific political line in which the vision is being transformed into a powerful material/tangible alternative system.
The current prevailing situation worldwide is a complete antithesis to Christ’s vision. There is unpeace and hunger. United States is preparing to wage war against Iraq. The US Congress has finally put a nod to Bushes’ war mongering in Iraq. With or without the US-Iraq war, the world is living in the midst of unpeace. Globalisation, which has been touted by its promoters to liberate the world in poverty, is a complete lie. In the recently concluded WSCF AP Student Empowerment for Transformation, delegates of national movements have cited the following as the impact of US led globalisation:
Bangladesh remains to be one of the poorest countries in the world with 51% of its population living below poverty line or could hardly afford to have one more meal a day. US have pressured the Bangladesh government to export its gas through multinational petrol companies. Likewise globalisation has spelled the death of Bangladesh weaving industry.
Taiwan, which is considered to be one of Asia’s tiger economies, has started to privatise its public owned businesses giving way to laying off of workers and imposing worsening labour benefits and conditions.
In South Korea, there is massive lay-off due to structural reformation, the poor getting poorer, deterioration of human rights and social welfare.
Thailand is also treading the road of privatisation and reduction.
Poverty in Sri Lanka, Philippines and that brought by policies of globalisation India continues to worsen.
Even so called well-off countries in Asia-Pacific like Australia and Nez Zealand could not escape the impact of globalisation in their environment and economy. Cuts in social welfare especially in health and education are hurting the Australians and Aotearoans.
There is widespread inequity though today is a time of abundance brought by soaring development in science and technology, but sadly it is also a time of hunger for more than half of the world’s population. In the first World Summit held in Rome in 1996, the Heads of State of all countries of the world had “reaffirmed the right to have access to safe and nutritious food, consistent to the right of adequate food and fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger”. Despite this, 800 million throughout the world continue to sleep in empty stomach and 24,000 people die from hunger, starvation and related diseases.
In the World Bank Development Report 2000-2001, it said, “the World has deep poverty and plenty. Of the world’s 6 billion people, 2.8 billion, almost half live on less than $2 a day and 1.2 billion—a fifth—live on less than $1 a day, with 44 percent living in South Asia. The average income of the richest 20 countries is 37 times the average in the poorest 20—a gap that has doubled in the past 40 years”.
The World Bank Environment Strategy concludes that: “economic development gains have been unevenly distributed, and a large part of the world’s population remains desperately poor. At the same time, environmental factors such as indoor and outdoor air pollution, waterborne diseases and exposure to toxic chemicals threaten the health of millions of people. Natural resources—land, water and forests are being degraded at alarming rates in many countries. The economic costs of environmental degradation have been estimated at 4 to 8 percent of gross domestic product annually in many developing countries”.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Human Development Reports indicates that 20 percent of humanity has 92 percent of the cars, consumes 75 percent of the energy, 80 percent of the iron, 81 percent of the paper and 86 percent of the copper. Three hundred fifty nine (359) billionaires have a wealth superior to that of 45 percent of the global population.
This stark reality alone contradicts Christ’s vision of life in abundance. As Christians, where do we base our continuing ministry other than the life and witness of Christ? As long as poverty, unpeace and division among people remain, the burning call of the vision that Christ has laid down will remain to be the blueprint of our mission vision.
But sadly enough, the student movement vis-à-vis the SCMs around the world has to find its momentum back to replicate, if not surpass the active student involvement in the 1960s where students and SCMs have actively participated in the national liberation movement.
I think the WSCF need to reflect on the following points in order to reverse the trend of declining membership. Somehow the local movements need to comprehensively analyse their country’s economic, political and cultural conditions.
The students, especially from the developing countries (to which many of Asian countries belong) basically are from middle class and higher echelon of our society. This fact stems from the reality that university education is not free and therefore not accessible to majority of the youth sector. This reality of inaccessibility of university education is further intensified by the fact that education has become part of the capitalists’ milking cow. Universities are owned by capitalists who only think of profit, therefore the commercialisation of education.
The commercialisation and privatisation of education have greatly intensified in the last years. Even so-called welfare states have passed on to private capitalists its responsibility of education. This condition breeds the situation that only those in the higher class of society can afford education.
This situation makes organising among the students quite difficult, simply because those in the higher class in the society are the few privilege class that enjoys the prevailing social order and therefore does not see the immediacy of bringing about social change. Their economic conditions, does not drive them to put up protest and join social movements for change.
In the recent years, it is quite noticeable in the national movements reports and sharing on the issue of “growing student apathy” as one of the major culprit in the declining mass membership. There seems to be an attitude of taking it against the students. I think we need to combat this attitude of taking it against the students their individualist attitude, self-centeredness and lack of interest in social concerns. Rather, we need to analyse what are the causes that lead to this phenomenon among the students. Only through understanding the root causes of this situation can we be able to effectively strategise how we can win back the much needed talent, time and energy of the students in social causes.
We need to recognise the fact that the present educational system is first and foremost serving the interests of the capitalists. Though education’s genuine purpose of intellectual pursuit and advancement for humanity’s development continues, it has taken a back seat, as education became one of capitalists’ instruments to preserve status quo. This condition breeds an educational system that does not promote critical thinking, participatory and collective action. Rather it promotes individualism, competition and suppression of academic freedom.
This situation is further intensified in the recent years at the onset of so-called globalisation. Economic recessions even in the most highly industrialised countries and financial crisis all add up to the growing rate of unemployment and labour flexibility. This reality puts a lot of burden and pressure to the students to excel individually in his/her academic studies as this “seems to” serve as a passport to employment. This drives the students in a highly competitive mood and away from engaging into any social participation.
Added to this reality, is the advent of computers and cybernetic (that is highly an individualised type of learning and communication) has captivated the student world. Furthermore, the globalisation of Western culture had been successfully used by the United States to divert student/youth energy in mimicking pop icons rather than question the prevailing world disorder.
SCMs around the world need to study and critically analyse the trend in the world economy and the politico-military might of many big countries. Tools of Analysis are very important in this endeavour. Likewise, studies need not only be confined to a small portion of our membership, it should reach out to many students via small study groups and big forums and symposiums.
SCMs have to deeply analyse the root causes of the so-called `student’s apathy’. Let us not take it against the students, but rather examine ourselves, how much effort and energy have we committed to encourage students to take active social participation. The present social order is calling us to devote more of our time, talent and efforts to organise the students.
I invite SCMs to review the tools of analysis we are using from national to regional to global level as there are a lot of pseudo-progressive framework of analysis that are wasting our energies, but does not really offer any tangible and viable alternative to present social disorder.
In the process of realising the vision, not one but many SCMs and students have fallen in the dark brought by political and religious persecution. It is a fact that working for social change to realise abundant life, peace and equality among the people is a long and thorny road. Even Christ himself had suffered death through crucifixion (which is considered in that time as the highest political death) in his quest to bring about social change.
Christians have always been persecuted for our belief and vision but this should not coward us in the process because the Lord assured us of God’s refuge. Psalm 91:3-9 “For God rescues you from the snare of the fowler from the destroying pestilence. God will cover you and under God’s wings you shall take refuge; God’s faithfulness is a buckler and a shield. You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrows that flies by the day. Not the pestilence that roams in darkness nor the devastating plague at noon. Though a thousand fall at your side ten thousand at your right side, near you it shall not come. Rather with your eyes shall you behold and see the requital of the wicked. Because you have the Lord for your refuge. You have made the most High your stronghold”.
It is but natural that in the process of government’s implementation of its economic policies dictated by IMF-WB (International Monetary Fund and World Bank), political repression is in. In the midst of growing repression and exploitation in our region, the more is the challenge for us to respond, the more SCMs should grow in campuses and churches, the more we need to be firm in our mission. And here lies the greater challenge to question the prevailing economic, political and cultural set up. Building SCMs is a minor way to create social consciousness and a venue for unified action thus there is a greater challenge for WSCF to boost the building of SCMs in the countries where political repression is at its highest.
For existing SCMs around the world, there is a need to be more creative in our organising. The government of our countries and foreign exploiters who are behind the perpetuation of globalisation are getting desperate to extract further profit from the people at the expense of people’s rights, thus they are making repressive move to quell any resistance from the people. Historically and until to this day, SCMs have always been at the side of the oppressed and poor and therefore SCMs are a target of repression. Therefore we need to be creative, firm and persevering in our journey towards our vision.