Allyson English: Using social media to make a difference
Editor’s note: Allyson English submitted her following personal story to Global Young Voices. You too can submit yours to us here.
If it was in your power to save a child’s life, would you take action?
Most people would, and I know this because I’ve seen it.
We’ve all heard stories of ordinary people exhibiting extraordinary compassion and bravery when lives are on the line. Stories of bystanders, running into burning buildings or diving into freezing cold water to save the life of someone they’ve never met, always leave me with a tingling sense of admiration and gratitude for the bravery and strength that these individuals exhibit.
Yet saving a life can be far simpler.
The #5ForHumanity campaign was founded on this concept: the actions that we take towards a better tomorrow can be small, but, with enough support and over time, these action will build upon each other to have a significant, long lasting impact.
Every year, more than five million children die from preventable causes. Illnesses like diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria—diseases we can prevent with basic medicines that cost just a few dollars—claim the lives of thousands of innocent children every day.
After a semester abroad in Geneva, Switzerland, studying global health policy in the city commonly regarded as the humanitarian capital of the world, I was inspired to take action against this grave injustice but at the same time I felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of the tragedy. Sixteen thousand children dying every day—and if world leaders and premier researchers were still struggling to solve this problem, what could I, a college student, possibly do to make a difference?
When I returned to the United States, I was determined to do something, even if I wasn’t sure what that ‘something’ would entail. A mutual fried connected me with the Associate Development Director at Medicines for Humanity (MFH), an organization working to reduce childhood deaths around the world. Together we discussed the seemingly insurmountable challenge of reducing preventable deaths and the need for culturally relevant and sustainable interventions. As he told me about what MFH is doing in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa to build the capacity of local healthcare providers to integrate and strengthen their systems of clinic and community-based care, I began to consider how many people would love to support the mission of an organization like this, if only they had a concrete way to do so. I voiced this idea, and he agreed wholeheartedly, but now we faced the most pressing question: how can we motivate individuals to take action against tragedies occurring all over the world, in places they might have only read about, or never even heard of?
After months of brainstorming we settled on our plan: a knowledge sharing campaign to raise awareness about the injustice of millions of innocent children dying unnecessarily. We wanted this project to have a lasting impact, to show participants that, even in the face of some of the most complex global challenges, they still had the ability to make a positive difference, if they simply refused to remain silent about the issues they care about.
Using social media as our method of organization and mobilization, we invited friends and family to show solidarity with us by posting a picture of themselves with their hand raised. In addition to ‘raising five fingers’ — and explaining why they were participating in this campaign — we asked them to invite and encourage five of their friends to participate, too. Raise your hand to show that you are speaking out against the more than 5 million preventable childhood deaths that occur every year; tag five friends to keep the conversation going; and donate five dollars to make your impact felt. Raise 5 fingers. Tag 5 friends. Donate $5; we dubbed this movement #5forHumanity.
Over the course of the campaign, we shared key messages with the growing #5forHumanity community to help them understand the plight of extremely poor and vulnerable children around the world, the underlying causes of child deaths and the most efficient and effective ways to stop them. We also made sure to share the exponential impact of their individual efforts and generosity.
It was astounding how many individuals jumped on board to show their support. What began as a trickle of encouragement from friends and family kept growing, starting with coverage from local news stations, and eventually snowballing into a movement where professional athletes—like Robinson Cano and Miguel Sano—were participating alongside celebrities like Kate Bosworth, Helena Christenson and Jaime King. And it didn’t stop there. We were ecstatic by how many individuals showed their eagerness to participate by asking: “What else can I do?”.
All of a sudden, the fears I had in Geneva about the inability for one person to make a change seemed distant and silly. As I watched the conversations among campaign participants unfold, both in person and on social media, I realized that the willingness to engage in conversation can magnify one’s voice, translating their passion from a singular interest to a community-wide priority. In addition to helping fund sustainable change in low-resource communities around the world, the #5ForHumanity campaign had inspired conversation about global challenges and helped shape a community of individuals eager to engage and make a positive difference.
Since its launch in May 2016, the #5forHumanity campaign has raised over $25,000 (and counting) from more than 700 individual donors. The campaign has enabled MFH to expand support and send additional medicines and supplies to its project partners in places like South Kordofan, Sudan (where the child mortality rate is among the highest in the world) and other low-resources settings across the globe.
What makes the #5ForHumanity campaign so special, however, is that the concept, the tools and goals are extremely simple in nature. It started with the desire to make a difference and a refusal to accept the status quo. As the campaign continues to grow, as we connect with more individuals committed to ending the injustice of preventable childhood deaths, we hope that this campaign will not only have a positive impact on the communities that MFH projects support, but will also remind the individuals participating in the campaign that they have the capacity to make a difference in the world, for the best.
The challenges the global community now faces are unique and daunting, but never before has the world been so interconnected. The #5ForHumantiy campaign believes in the power of individuals to touch the lives of communities all over the world. Together we can make a difference: it’s as simple as raising your hand.
Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV