Last week, July 15-19, about 30,000 youth plus another couple thousand volunteers and partners of the ELCA arrived in Detroit. As a part of these triennial ELCA Youth Gatherings, ELCA World Hunger develops a fundraising event for the youth of the ELCA to rally around and to make their mark on the mission of the ELCA’s World Hunger and Disaster Appeal. For the Gathering in Detroit, ELCA World Hunger called on the youth of the ELCA to raise $500,000, which is to be matched for a grand total of $1 million for ELCA World Hunger’s Walk for Water. This money will be used to support ELCA companions and partners around the world and here in the United States with water projects to support the advancement of access to clean and sustainable water sources.
The youth certainly responded, raising about $402,000 by week’s end. However, we are not just a church by the size of the check we write to our neighbors in need. We are also a church by community we create around worship, fellowship and, of course, service – service that happened all across the city of Detroit but also within the Cobo Center where the partners of “Proclaim Community” spent their week, including the Walk for Water.
ELCA World Hunger’s Walk for Water was not only about raising $1 million to financially support water projects. It was also an opportunity for youth, their adult leaders, volunteers and the ELCA as a whole to learn and talk about what it means to not have access to clean water, to walk the average 3.7 miles women in Sub-Saharan Africa walk for clean water, to learn about water-borne and water-related illnesses and, most importantly, what we as a church are doing about it through campaigns such as the ELCA Malaria Campaign.
Part of the education element of the Walk for Water was a “clinic” along the tenth of a mile track (1/37th of the length women in Sub-Saharan Africa walk on average every day for water). When walkers arrived at the clinic, they were diagnosed with a water-borne or water-related illness, either a diarrheal disease, worms or malaria based on a symbol on their 40-pound jug of water. If a walker was diagnosed with malaria, they would proceed to three green cots where a staff member or volunteer would give them two red jelly beans to symbolize the anti-malarial medications used to treat patients diagnosed with malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa. The staff person or volunteer would then talk to the walker about malaria, how they got malaria and how it relates to the Walk for Water, how malaria is treated and its symptoms, and how malaria is a disease of inequality not scarcity, the theme of sorts for the Walk for Water space following Mikka McCracken’s speech from the stage at Ford Field.
The ELCA Malaria Campaign is in its fifth and final year, raising more than $14.5 million toward a $15 million goal as part of a global effort to contain malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa. The ELCA Malaria Campaign shone brightly at the ELCA Walk for Water space. When asked how people contract malaria, how much mosquito nets cost and if there is enough money in the entire world to provide those nets to all who need one, Walk for Water participants nearly shouted their answers!
Countless congregations that have been active in the ELCA Malaria Campaign were present at ELCA World Hunger’s Walk for Water, and both their successful fundraising and education efforts were on display. In the Walk for Water clinic space in Cobo, staff and volunteers reported to participants that the ELCA Malaria Campaign was part of a global effort, which since 2015 has helped to cut malaria deaths in half worldwide! Youth from congregations participating in the Malaria Campaign knew the cost of nets, how they work and why women get sick while walking for water. Adult leaders and youth participants were eager to share with us in that space how their congregations responded to the call to contain malaria and were eager to know what happens next.
The ELCA Malaria Campaign has raised more than $14.5 million toward the $15 million goal, but it has also done so much more. It has taught children, youth and adults within this church, the ELCA, what malaria is and has helped spread the knowledge of how to prevent this disease, a disease of inequality not scarcity, a preventable disease. They shared, nodded and asked questions about why when malaria nets cost only about $10, people are still getting sick and sometimes dying from this preventable disease. The ELCA Malaria Campaign has successfully been a part of a global malaria campaign to ask the tough questions, find the answers, support our partners and companions and respond with the energy, enthusiasm and faith that shone brightly last week in Detroit.
Ben Brown currently serves as an intern with ELCA World Hunger. Ben will be a senior at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio this fall, studying Religion and Political Science. Ben is from Indianapolis, Indiana.