Adopt a Problem


If not us, not them, if not now then when?
If not here, nor there, if not this world then where?

Today during Peace Lab I had the kids take a blank sheet of paper and write down all the injustices they see in the world. Then, on the back I had them write out things they enjoy doing, things that make them come alive, moments when they are in flow. One by one we went around the circle and I invited them to share with the group the things that make them come alive and then one or two of the injustices they are most passionate about. Then, as a group, we brainstormed ways in which that person could combine the things they love doing to end the injustice they care most about. Ideas ranged from getting involved at a Boys and Girls Club to teaching art lessons in their community to starting a club at school that reached out to new students to writing songs that made people laugh. Together we saw how God longs to use the deepest desires of our heart to mend this broken world.

After each camper had a chance to share, listen and respond, I introduced the idea of Adopt a Problem_. At a leadership camp in high school I was challenged with the task of adopting a problem, it could be big or small but it would be the one thing that I would try to make a dent in. Through much discernment I launched a project called Bracelets of Hope – this combined my love of crafts with a deep recognition of the disconnect between American teens and injustices throughout the world. I started a club at school and encouraged peers to gather to make bracelets and educate one another about different social issues. Over the course of that one year, these bracelets made their way to children in Juarez, Mexico, Jerusalem, Angola, and to abused and neglected children within our own home community. As I entered college this project fell by the wayside as I got busy with other things, but this summer it seems to be bubbling back up again in my heart. With a few extra years of experience and scholarship since that time, I’m coming to recognize that the bracelet itself is not what is most important, but rather the learning that takes place while making it. On the topic of incorporating peace and justice into a Catholic school curriculum, Carol Baass Sowa writes, “There are two “shoes” to Catholic justice… direct service and social action. Direct service is immediate, such as feeding someone who is hungry on the street. Social action involves asking ourselves why this person is hungry and what can be done about it.” *

Making a bracelet that puts a smile on a kid’s face is great… and so is fostering challenging discussion about where that smile has gone. All our campers know it’s a good idea to donate to a food drive but how many can talk about food deserts, structural racism, and cycles of poverty?

A social justice curriculum that includes games, activities, simulations, discussions and reflection are ESSENTIAL to Christian education.

I invited the campers to participate in what I discerned to be my Adopt a Problem project in high school to show them that something simple and ordinary could have a lasting effect. While making bracelets we listened to this song on repeat until all could sing along:
If not us, not them, if not now then when?
If not here, nor there, if not this world then where?

I invited them to reflect on what this means for them personally, in their world, today.

Some of the bracelets made today will be given by a camper to people back home who are going through a tough time and others will be given to children in Palestine next spring.

My hope for this activity is that some of these kids began to think about injustice in a new way, in a way where they recognized their ability to respond.

We all have the capacity to adopt a problem and do something about it.

What is yours to do?


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