On Tuesday January 25, I participated in the “CELL OUT for Congo” event. This worldwide event asked participants to turn off their cell phone from Noon to 1pm. Instead of making/taking calls or texting, we changed our voicemail messages. The message was:
“Did you know that coltan coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo is an essential component in the production of many of our electronics, including cell phones? The demand for coltan is one of the driving forces behind the war in the DRC, and while we benefit from coltan, over 5 million Congolese have died in the deadliest conflict since WWII. Join me in solidarity with the Congolese people and turn your phone off today!”
This event seems to be a straightforward, “pass-it-on” chain awareness event. It should build awareness through the message. For me, however, I wasn’t truly affected by the message but by my initial response to it. On Tuesday, I had class until 10:40 leaving me plenty of time to participate in the hours of the event. But my apathy towards the event led me to rationalize not participating. “No one is actually going to call me during the hour, so no one will hear the message! I bet I could get away with not changing it,” I thought. Then I began to feel guilty about having to lie for an assignment, and being so lazy I couldn’t even change my voicemail, so I fully participated. I wound up not changing it back until 8 p.m. in hopes that someone would call and hear it.
The fact that I almost didn’t change my voicemail startled me. As a student at a Jesuit University, there are certain values we are expected to incorporate into our lives. As discussed in “The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice” by Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, Jesuits’ educational objective is to form men and women for who live for others. These men and women should make themselves intellectually present where it is needed.
I began to wonder if I was wasting money coming to a Jesuit university. My parents clearly believe that I should be prepared not just academically, but also be educated in the Jesuit values. As I read Kovenblach’s words, I realized the need for a well-educated solidarity – an aware, united culture. He says that solidarity is best learned through contact rather than through concepts. “When the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change.”
This was the wakeup call I needed. I had been expecting to sit and class and be enlightened in Jesuit values. Rather, “Personal involvement with innocent suffering, with the injustices other suffer, is the catalyst for solidarity which then gives rise to intellectual inquiry and moral reflection.” By making personal experiences, I am able to reflect more effectively. I can learn about myself and others, and how to perceive, think, choose, and act for the rights of others.
I began to realize that even sitting in my dorm room, I could make a change. I was able to build awareness for a problem 6,500 miles away. More than that, a problem 6,500 miles away was able to change me. So I wonder, what is possible when one makes them self present closer to home?