'Of course we can change the world!'

Feb 04, 2003 01:18 PM EST

"Fifty percent of the children born in my country are born into poor homes," said Mariana Berger. "We don't want to be part of the causes that make the lives of other people in the world miserable," said Arnhild Helgesen. Mariana is from Uruguay and Arnhild is from Norway. The two young people were taking part in a discussion at the workshop on youth and globalization organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) at the third World Social Forum.

"In Norway we don't feel the negative effects of unjust international trade or a crushing foreign debt," explained Arnhild, a member of the youth organization, Changemakers. "Yet it does affect us: we know that the coffee we drink and the bananas we eat have been produced by peasant farmers struggling just to survive. And we know that our government has refused to cancel the debts of poor countries."

Changemakers' slogan is "Of course we can change the world!" It organizes activities aimed at developing individual awareness of responsibility and bringing pressure to bear on the government. It investigates how certain consumer goods are produced to find out whether the human rights of the producers have been violated, and organizes campaigns to make the public aware that they need to know how the goods were produced.

"Uruguay used to be a fairly well-integrated, homogenous country, with a large middle class and progressive social legislation. Now it has turned into a country with a growing class divide, high unemployment, no job security, and fifty people emigrating every day," explained Mariana, a member of the Student Christian Movement in Uruguay.

She believes this situation is the result of economic globalization and foreign debt. "The countries of the periphery are culturally and economically colonized," she says. Mariana tells of her experience doing recreational work with children in marginalized communities and insists that, despite the country's institutional crisis and the feeling of uncertainty among its young people, "churches and universities are still creative spaces that can produce alternatives when they work with the people".

Other presenters at the workshop were Josué Soares Flores, coordinator of the Brazilian Ecumenical Movement of Theological Students, and Horacio Mesones, coordinator of the Latin American section of the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF). Josué explained how globalization is undermining Brazilian culture, imposing a standard way of thinking and patterns of consumption. The theological students organize youth meetings to encourage the idea of diversity and compare Christian thought with other ways of thinking.

Horacio presented the draft of a document on economic globalization being prepared by WSCF. "We are not an anti-globalization group," he said. "We are part of the prophetic ecumenical fellowship looking critically at globalization. And since biblical references are used, amongst other things, to justify globalization, our task is to challenge that in the light of our own reading of the Bible."

In the debate, several participants stressed how important it is not to lose sight of the two-fold dimension of Christian spirituality. The "vertical" dimension of the individual's relation to God cannot be separated from the "horizontal" dimension of our relation with the community and society. "The Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other," was one of the images used to express this indissoluble link.

In another of its conclusions, the workshop underlined the need to establish and/or strengthen ties between young people in the North and in the South, to find out about each other's needs, and share ideas and initiatives. Evaluating the workshop, its coordinator, Freddy Knutsen, the coordinator of the WCC's Youth programme, said: "We have learned from one another here. We have made contacts and formed links that will make us stronger than before as we go on working together."

Photos of the WCC delegation in Porto Alegre are at


The WCC delegation is participated at the World Social Forum within the framework of an Ecumenical Caucus set up by the WCC, the Lutheran World Federation, the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, the Latin American Council of Churches and an ecumenical coalition of Brazilian churches and related organizations.

Delegation members led a series of workshops showing links between Christian spirituality and examples of resistance against the unjust world order by churches and social and ecumenical organizations.