AS a five year old in grade one at Riverton Primary School in Perth’s south-eastern suburbs I remember toddling off to school one day with an interesting accessory. In addition to my pigtails, oversize polo shirt and lace-trimmed frilly socks, I carried a little brown paper lunch bag filled with coins.
I arrived at school and found a large word written in thick white chalk on the bitumen quadrangle. Our job was to cover this chalk word in coins. The year was 1992. The word was Somalia. We were raising money for the relief effort as famine ravaged east Africa.
Fast forward a few years and I’m a twelve year old in grade seven at Parkwood Primary School. The sun rises on easily the most exciting day of my short life so far. The Fremantle Dockers are visiting my school, and as Head Girl I get to greet them and introduce them at assembly.
My twelve year old footy-mad brain can’t comprehend how life could possibly get any better. The Dockers players visit, and on behalf of our school I hand over boxes of books our school is donating to schools in Soweto, South Africa, being delivered by the Dockers.
In both scenarios I’m struck by the difference between my own life as a child in Australia and the lives of children who were born in sub-Saharan Africa.
I always had enough to eat, and I always had plenty of books to read. The thought that kids my age on the other side of the Indian Ocean had neither was sobering. It seemed unfair.
Now, as a grown up, it’s no less unfair to me that 16,000 kids die every day across the world due to largely preventable causes like hunger, diarrhoea and vaccine-preventable diseases. It’s no less unfair to me that 57 million kids who should be in school are missing out.
These are problems that need to be tackled on a much larger scale than primary school fundraisers and book drives. They are problems that can seem overwhelming and insurmountable.
But I have two great reasons to feel hopeful.
The first is that, believe it or not, great progress has already been made. Since 1992, when I was laying those silver and copper coins down on the bitumen at school, the number of preventable child deaths has dropped from about 35,000 each day to 16,000 each day.
And in the last 15 years or so since my school mates and I helped fill boxes with books bound for Soweto, the number of kids out of school has dropped from 100 million to 57 million.
These are staggering achievements, facilitated by a global focus on achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Agreed to in 2000, these eight goals aimed to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015, decrease hunger, improve gender equality, get more kids into school, and ensure sustainable use of environmental resources.
But what comes next?
Well, the second reason to be hopeful is that the global community isn’t stopping halfway. Today, world leaders are gathering at the United Nations in New York to agree to the next set of Global Goals for Sustainable Development. These 17 goals aim to finish what the Millennium Development Goals started; ending extreme poverty, getting all kids into quality schooling, and bringing the number of preventable child deaths to zero. All by 2030.
It’s an ambitious set of goals. But the picture they paint for the world in 2030 is one our leaders need to get behind. These goals will only ever remain goals without action. Unless these goals are endorsed, adopted into policy, and their pursuit adequately resourced, they will remain a grand vision never realised.
So as Foreign Minister Julie Bishop leads the Australian delegation to the UN, I call on her and all Australian political leaders to look towards the Global Goals as the blueprint for our future. Endorse them. Then adopt them. Adequately resource them, including by rebuilding Australian aid. We all stand to benefit from a more just, sustainable and equitable world.
Gina Olivieri has been an advocate in the worldwide movement to end extreme poverty and ensure kids have access to the basics for a dignified life for the last 9 years, including volunteering in South Africa and Sierra Leone.
Born in Perth and a graduate of UWA, she is Grassroots Engagement Manager with RESULTS International Australia, a movement of passionate, committed everyday people who use their voices to influence political decisions that will bring an end to poverty.