09 Mar 2015 10th SSA Student Peace Lecture
What is the state of poverty in the world today? Here is just one fact: children are not just hungry as a result of poverty-related causes, but they are dying. Not a hundred, or a thousand, but 17,000 children. That would be shocking and tragic enough if it were over a year, a month, or even a week. But the fact is, 17,000 children die every single day from poverty-related causes, including today.
Such somber revelations at the 10th SSA Student Peace Lecture (SPL 10) filled attendees with resolve to stand up in their own way to change the state of poverty in the world today. Held on February 7, 2015 and themed “Poverty is for Me to Change” at the SSA Headquarters’ Ikeda Culture Auditorium, SPL 10 saw the largest turnout ever in the 10-year history of the lecture series with more than 600 in attendance.
The speaker, Professor John Donaldson, is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Singapore Management University and a Senior Research Fellow at the Lien Centre for Social Innovation. The chairperson for SPL 10 was Mr Chia Meng Hwee, SSA Young Men’s Student Division Chief, who also works on research and development in a government agency.
Professor Donaldson shared on the topic of poverty through the lens of political science, which was a new dimension that went beyond analysing the problem in purely economic terms. Professor Donaldson spent nearly two decades researching poverty, and he echoes SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s view that a fundamental consequence of poverty is that it deprives individuals the right to live in security and with dignity.
Professor Donaldson cautioned that study into the topic of poverty should not lapse into a mere intellectual exercise, and that one should always keep in mind the suffering that is a living reality for millions every day. He shared that most of the deaths caused by poverty related conditions, such as diseases like malaria and diarrhea, could have been easily prevented, since humankind has long acquired the technology and knowledge to do so. With many examples from his extensive research and travels around the world, he is convinced that the issue is a lack of will to do something about it, reinforced by existing social structures. “Poverty,” Professor Donaldson solemnly stated, “is an issue of politics and power.”
However, he is hopeful that change is inevitable and there is no need to feel helpless. He declares: “Anyone who learns about poverty is obligated to act.” In order for genuine peace and human security to be realised, every individual has a part to play in tearing down these social structures, which apathetically allow suffering to continue, through non-violent means.
“To make a difference, you do not need to study poverty for years and become an academic like me. You just need to be you,” Professor Donaldson assured and continued, “The world needs doctors, lawyers, and people in all fields. A doctor can tap on medical knowledge to treat children who may die from easily prevented diseases, while a lawyer may leverage on legal expertise to fight for the justice for the underprivileged.”
To coincide with SPL 10, an exhibition created by Martin Luther King Jr’s alma mater, Morehouse College in the United States, titled “Gandhi, King and Ikeda: A Legacy of Building Peace” was set up at SSA Headquarters. These three great men, driven by their heart for the common people, tore down social structures that perpetuate injustice, and created history through non-violent means.
President Ikeda continues to work tirelessly for peace and human happiness, and fostering capable successors dedicated to building peace. On January 26 this year, he presented his 2015 peace proposal to the United Nations, titled “A Shared Pledge for a More Humane Future: To Eliminate Misery from the Earth”. This day also marks the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the SGI’s founding (on January 26, 1975), by which the SPL 10 commemorated. In this latest annual peace proposal, which he has been issuing since 1983, he renewed his call for nations and individuals to take concrete steps towards poverty eradication.