Arts students drive global poverty onto the political agenda

13 May 2013

Philip Chan
Arts/Law student Philip Chan with fellow Arts student Jo Eva at the Roadtrip to End Poverty media stunt at Parliament House Canberra.

Philip Chan was one of eleven Arts and Social Sciences students selected as an Ambassador on the national Roadtrip to End Poverty earlier this year. He shares his experience on being involved with the largest youth mobilisation against poverty in Australia's history.

Inspiring. Empowering. Life-Changing. These are not the words usually used to describe a roadtrip with young people - but the Roadtrip to End Poverty was like no other.

Over eight days in March, I journeyed with 110 young people from New South Wales, including 18 Sydney University students - the largest contingent from any university in the state. The aim of the roadtrip was to engage with different communities, gaining public support to increase Australia's foreign aid commitments.

From the multicultural hub of Parramatta, sun-drenched Terrigal, to the misty Blue Mountains and Sydney's bustling city, we collected signatures at shopping centres and beaches, door-knocked in the suburbs, and flash mobbed at universities and train stations. Each state had its own roadtrip, which was organised by the Oaktree Foundation, Australia's first and largest youth-run development agency.

At the heart of our campaign was a national petition. In the lead up to September's federal election, the petition asked our politicians to increase foreign aid as part of Australia's obligations under the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

Currently, Australia gives a mere 35 cents in every $100 of our national income (0.35% of Gross National Income). The petition calls upon the government to fulfil our international obligation by giving just 70 cents in every $100 of national income (0.7% of GNI) by 2020. In particular, Australia has an important role in reducing poverty, with more than two-thirds of the world's poorest living in the Asia-Pacific.

Foreign aid, whilst not a silver bullet, has made significant progress in decreasing poverty, including halving extreme poverty since 1990. Since 1990, effective aid has halved the proportion of people living below the absolute poverty line, as well as the number of children who die before their fifth birthday (that is, 14,000 children saved each day). Over 90% of all children now have access to primary education, with near parity amongst boys and girls. As we engaged the public, the roadtrips collected a total of over 50,000 signatures in just several days.

Roadtrip Relay
Philip Chan joined more than 1000 Roadtrip ambassadors on the front lawns of Parliament house to form a human map of Australia, with giant drop-pins representing each electorate.

All the roadtrips converged into Canberra, where we had 90 meetings with politicians and heard from Foreign Minister Bob Carr. It was remarkable to see over 1,000 young people, representing the voices of all corners of our country, come together to advocate not for ourselves, but for the world's poorest.

As an Arts (Media)/Law student with a major in Government and International Relations, the roadtrip was a powerful opportunity for me to apply what I have been learning in the classroom into practice, engage in the political process and advocate on behalf of the poor. We have the resources and ability to end poverty; we just need the willpower. I care strongly about this because I realise just how fortunate I am to grow up in Australia. The conditions of our birth are a blind lottery. These circumstances should not dictate anyone's future and chain anyone to a lifetime of poverty.

It was phenomenal to be part of the largest youth-led campaign against global poverty in Australia. We placed foreign aid back on the political agenda, engaged with thousands of everyday Australians and reminded our politicians that we have the ability and an obligation to make poverty history for our poorest neighbours. Along the way, I became friends with incredible and inspiring change-makers, who share an endless passion to end poverty in our world.

While the Roadtrip has finished, our journey for justice has only just begun.

Find out more about the Roadtrip to End Poverty campaign.

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Contact: Emily Jones

Phone: 02 9114 1961; 0405 208 616

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