“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.” —Nelson Mandela

Last week the world learned of the passing of the former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. Eulogies about his life, leadership in the struggle for racial equality, and shrewdness in uniting a country torn apart by apartheid will continue to pour in for months to come. On a personal note, memories of singing Mandela freedom songs in primary school have certainly been refreshed by news of his death.

Carrying on Mandela’s work is a task for us all as global citizens.

Just as he fought against apartheid, Mandela was a champion for those living on the economic margins of our society. To him, poverty was an injustice subjected upon many whose voices are often ignored. During a speech at the G8 summit in 2005, Mandela asserted that poverty, apartheid, and slavery were human-made social evils that could be overcome by our actions. He likened the experience of living in chronic poverty to being in prison: “But in this new century, millions of people in the world’s poorest countries remain imprisoned, enslaved, and in chains. They are trapped in the prison of poverty. It is time to set them free.”

Mandela was a passionate advocate for education. He maintained that education was a crucial instrument in the fight against poverty. He dedicated much of his time out of public office to educational initiatives.

Reducing the prevalence of HIV/AIDS was another social issue to which Mandela committed his personal time. He used his influence to urge the international community to use all available tools proven to save lives. Even as he grew frail, Mandela continued to raise awareness and funds for the global fight against HIV/AIDS.

Carrying on Mandela’s work is a task for us all as global citizens. In many countries, governments play a big role in lifting people out of poverty. But the governments of many developing countries lack the capacity to do this because of the unjust global economic system. Wealthy countries, who benefit the most from this unjust economic system, have an important role to play in making extreme poverty history.

The U.S. government provides some financial support to developing countries through its international poverty reduction programs. But this makes up less than 1 percent of the budget, and in the past several years Congress has continued to cut even this level of funding. The MCC U.S. Washington Office remains steadfast in advocating for sustained funds toward these life-saving programs.

Printed with permission from Third Way Cafe.