Elaine Van Cleave: ‘We can change the world!’

Elaine Van Cleave has been a ONE member in the US since 2004, and reflects on her journey fighting to end extreme poverty.

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I joined ONE in the summer of 2004, before white ONE bands and black tees.

As a mother of young children in the mid 90s, I became very involved in hunger issues. I helped launch a hunger ministry at our church. We did the usual projects – we held food drives and raised money for Heifer Project. As I became more educated on the issue, I was drawn to the effectiveness and power of advocacy work and that led me to ONE founding partner, Bread for the World. With Bread, I worked on the Jubilee 2000 Drop the Debt campaign that was one of the seeds for the birth of ONE.

I’ve done such a variety of activities with ONE, it would take a whole page to talk about them all. I’ve tabled for hundreds of hours at AIDS Walks, CROP Walks, concerts, farmer’s markets, church bazaars, presidential debates, college campus events, etc.

I’ve formed a human chain around the US Capitol building and marched with church leaders through the streets of NYC. I have participated in the UN Millennium Challenge’s Stand Up and Take Action world record attempt by hosting film screenings, organizing a U2Charist church service and hosting an Oxfam Hunger Banquet.

I traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland with ONE in 2005 to create media attention during the Gleneagles G8 Summit. I’ve taken groups of ONE members to presidential candidate rallies and to numerous meetings with our members of Congress. I’ve been on a panel during a grant proposal presentation at the Gates Foundation as the token “grassroots activist”. I tried to start a #whoswearingtheONEband trend on Twitter but that hasn’t quite taken off yet…

I am most proud when a piece of legislation passes that we have been working on….victories on legislation and funding is what this is all about, after all! I was especially proud of the work ONE Tennessee members did to persuade one of our members of Congress to co-sponsor the Electrify Africa Act. Her office let us know she was going to cosponsor and said “you can call off the dogs now!”

I am also so impressed by the progresses in the fight against AIDS and how we are now talking about the Beginning of the End of AIDS. When I first started working on these issues, AIDS was a death sentence. Now, more people are living with HIV, thanks to PEPFAR. We are learning more about prevention and we are close to ending mother to child transmission.

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Family picture with the ONE band. 

If I were to give advice to a new activist joining a cause, I would say that you should follow your passion and try new things. Be a part of the team and share your gifts. It is amazing what a group of like-minded passionate activists can do. A little saying I came up with when we had our first ONE event at Samford University in fall 2004 was,”ONE voice, your voice, can make a difference. Together, acting as ONE, we can change the world!”

There were some bumps on the way to 10 years. But I stuck around for so long because the current leadership of ONE is fantastic. Laurie, Suzanne, Charlie and the network of Regional Field Directors, especially the Southeast’s Abby Sasser, provides those of us at the grassroots level with the best guidance, support and resources. The goal, of course, is to work ourselves out of a “job”. Until we see an end of extreme poverty and AIDS, there is more work to be done.

Explore ONE’s Interactive Timeline on 10 years in the fight to end extreme poverty.