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01 May 2010

Make the world a better place

Make the world a better place

War, famine, pestilence and death make the headlines in our newspapers every day. Isn't there something we can do about this? Hazel Southam investigates...

Not wanting to sound flippant, but the four horsemen of the apocalypse seem closer than ever. In the book of Revelation, war, famine, pestilence and death are recorded bringing in the end of the world.

Just look at the news. Today there are at least eight wars and 21 conflicts going on right now. Pestilence and disease are all around us as 33 million people worldwide are living with HIV, up to 500 million people suffer from malaria annually and, here in the UK, there's been a sharp rise in the number of people with rickets, a condition that had been eradicated, because we don't get enough sunshine and therefore Vitamin D.

Meanwhile, famine continues to stalk Africa, with Ethiopia particularly under threat. And as for death, well, on the day I am writing this, the mother of a 7-year-old child admitted manslaughter when her daughter died of starvation, an orca killed its trainer at Sea World, Algeria's police chief has been shot dead, and a baby died after being hit by a falling lamppost.

Don't you sometimes wish you could change the world? Well, you can. The abolition of slavery, the right to vote, civil rights, the end of apartheid, the fall of the Berlin Wall: all these events were brought about by ordinary people deciding that they wanted to do something to make the world a better place.

It has been nearly 40 years since Dr Martin Luther King Jr famously proclaimed, "I have a dream!" And reaching out for dreams is just as important today. Here is idea's guide to 10 ways that I can help to change the world...

1. Buy fairly traded and locally produced food

Let's face it, we all like a good tuck in. But buying Fairtrade (fairtrade.org.uk) food means that farmers in the developing world get a better wage. And with 3,000 products to choose from you don't have to stop at tea and coffee. Meanwhile, buying locally produced food from a farmers' market or farm shop supports British farmers, can help maintain the landscape and reduces your carbon footprint, all in one go (farmersmarkets.net). I can also use my buying power on other products, such as clothes. Ask shops where clothes are made, what steps they're taking to ensure that workers are paid a living wage and if they're a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ethicaltrade.org).

2. Find out what impact I have on the world

I have to know exactly what I'm doing in order to make a change. So I need to find out what my carbon footprint is. There are many websites that offer this service, including Alliance member Tearfund, which has a simple questionnaire that will calculate my global impact (tearfund.org/climatenew).

3. Reduce my impact by 5 per cent

Now that I've found out the size of my carbon footprint, I'd like to know how to reduce it. There's a current movement I can join to pledge to reduce my impact on the world by 5 per cent. It doesn't have to be difficult. Even if it's a little more expensive, it will be worth it to swap to an energy provider that only uses renewable sources (energysavingtrust.org.uk). And I can make simple lifestyle changes: recycle more, turn appliances off when I'm not using them and insulate my house.

4. Change my travel plans

Every 6,000 miles, my car pumps out its own weight in carbon emissions. So I can try car-sharing on some journeys, walking to the shops and school, and using public transport where possible. Most travel agencies also have carbon-offset programmes.

5. Find out about the world

To change the world, I have to know about it; I need to keep up to date with the news. The best way to do this is to choose something that interests me - a part of the world, a country, a cause - and learn more. The Alliance's website (eauk.org) lists Christian member organisations working in all spheres from education to international development to mission. And it includes news from many members, including links to their websites.

6. Pray

Prayer focuses the mind and creates a caring attitude. And it changes things. And if I need help with prayer, Viva (viva.org), World Prayer Centre (worldprayer.org.uk) and others offer regular guides to help to focus my prayers around the world.

7. Give

Once I've chosen a charity to support, I can back up my prayers and reading with money, which really does help the world go around. And I can make it fun, for instance by cycling the route of Hadrian's Wall for Toybox this August, which will raise money to help children living on the streets in South America (toybox.org).

8. Go

It also helps to see the impact of poverty for myself and get involved by seeing charity work firsthand in places like Africa, Asia or South America. Most charities can arrange trips ranging from one week to four months. For example, both Tearfund (tearfund.org) and SoapBox (soapbox.org) offer schemes to take me anywhere from Brazil to Romania.

9. Lobby my MP

Micah Challenge (micahchallenge.org.uk) is calling on 100 million Christians around the world to pray for those living in poverty on 10 October (10/10/10). And they'd like us to visit our MPs too, to ask him or her what they're doing to see the Millennium Development Goals reached in the next five years (findyourmp.parliament.uk).

10. Get my church involved

A congregation acting together could really make an impact. Tearfund's Discovery course helps churches find out about community action locally. And its Just People course helps churches and small groups grapple with issues of justice and poverty (tearfund.org/resources).

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