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December 2007 Issue
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You already make a difference


University of Adelaide Politics and International Studies student Erin Riddell is no stranger to taking on a cause and helping others.
Named the 2007 South Australian Young Citizen of the Year, Ms Riddell is heavily involved with World Vision through its youth movement, Vision Generation. She has worked as a volunteer at a Vietnamese orphanage and has worked with underprivileged children in South Australia. Recently, she has been involved in the Adopt-a-Politician campaign, an initiative of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition aimed at raising awareness of politics among young people.

I think people are inherently good and that when you see wrong there is an instinct to help.

But at the same time we live in a world where responding to confronting things, whether an unconscious being on the street or the destruction of a rainforest, is discouraged. This discouragement comes in a number of ways such as fear, an active erosion of individual responsibility and superficial distractions.

As educated members of a relatively wealthy and free society, I think that we as students have a responsibility to look past these distractions to see that, as music group Faithless reminded us a few years ago around the time that Iraq was "liberated", inaction is a weapon of mass destruction (along with misinformation and fear). By not acting, by not speaking out, we are essentially allowing injustices to continue.

However, "responsibility" doesn't exactly arouse passion or enthusiasm! So for me, I think it's not only a responsibility that we are faced with, but an exciting opportunity to be a part of change. We are at a point where there is the knowledge and the resources to create a reality that doesn't allow for unnecessary suffering.

This change starts at the grassroots level, with individuals realising that one person is able to make an impact. As Julia Butterfly Hill, the heroic American activist who stood up to loggers trying to clear the redwood giants in California, said:

"The question is not 'can you make a difference? You already do make a difference. It's just a matter of what kind of difference you want to make, during your life on this planet."

So if we are already making a difference, then the next step is to step back and take a look at what kind of impact we are currently making. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, our global impact becomes inevitable and more significant.

Our consumption behaviours make for a great example.

Think about what you ate and drank today. Chances are most of the ingredients did not come from your backyard. A lot of ingredients are imported; so ask the question, what are the labour practices in the country of origin? What are the environmental standards? How many layers of plastic was the food wrapped in and how far did it travel before it reached your plate? Then ask, is this the kind of impact I want to make, and what can I do about it?

Making a significant positive difference in the world has never been so accessible; the internet can provide us with information on virtually every issue on the planet, and give us some sense of how we as individuals living in Adelaide fit into the picture. You can jump online and Google "Fairtrade coffee" or your local food co-operative.

As uni students, we have even greater access to information with a mammoth library and access to online journals. Knowledge really is power, so arm yourself with as much as you can. In the privileged position in which we sit there is no excuse for ignorance. Your voice is an equally powerful medium; use it.

Over the last few years, non-government and volunteer organisations committed solely to making a difference have proliferated to incalculable numbers and provide opportunities to learn, connect with other like-minded people and effectively make changes in society, locally and globally. And volunteering with these organisations will not only ensure that you make a contribution to bettering the world, but will also expose you to more information and increase your capacity to make positive change. You are also guaranteed to be around positive and inspiring people.

It is also important to think critically about what is being presented to you on a daily basis; by the media, by marketers and by the government. At this point in Australia, being 'green' and globally conscious is becoming normalised among those with the most power, namely government and the business sector. But it is important to remember that just because the issues or, moreover, the language, have become more popularised, they are not necessarily being adequately addressed.

Doing nothing is not neutral. Not acting does make an impact. It is because we allow ourselves to be distracted or choose to believe that individuals cannot make an impact, that wrongs in the world still persist, such as slavery, HIV/AIDS and landmines.

If we don't demand change it won't come. And this starts with the power of the individual.

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Erin Riddell
Photo by David Ellis

Erin Riddell
Photo by David Ellis

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