We’re in high school and we just met with our Senator about upcoming legislation. What are YOU doing to end extreme poverty?

From Left: Mariya Ali, Lauren Dargan, Marissa Sumathipala, and Adriel Sumathipala of Broad Run High School's ONEVoice Network

From Left: Mariya Ali, Lauren Dargan, Marissa Sumathipala, and Adriel Sumathipala of Broad Run High School’s ONEVoice Network

By Adriel and Marissa Sumathipala

“If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.” ~ Eldridge Cleaver

People are not reminded this enough. To us high schoolers, inaction is not just lazy, it’s morally reprehensible. Located in Northern Virginia, we established our ONE Campus chapter to gather and amplify our generation’s voice on the global issues we feel are most critical. We seek to cultivate dedicated thinkers and leaders of social change who can step away from the comforts of the first world and engage as citizens of a global community.

Last fall, as part of our school’s ONEVoice Network, we began our very first advocacy campaign: Electrify Africa. (The Electrify Africa Act would provide electricity to over 50 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa without any cost to US taxpayers). We made posters, handed out flyers, held tabling sessions, rallied our peers, and broadcast announcements to students and faculty. In the end, we reached out to 1,855 students and got over 400 petition signatures asking for Sen. Warner’s support of the Electrify Africa Act.

“I think it’s important to understand that with us being so fortunate, we have the responsibility and capability to promote good for those who aren’t as fortunate.” Mariya Ali, our Electrify Africa Campaign manager said.

After months of campaigning at our high school for the Electrify Africa Act and with the Act close to being reintroduced in Congress, we decided it was time to visit our Senator, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA.

Uncertain of the responsiveness of Warner’s staffers towards our meeting request, yet determined to have face time with the Senator’s staffers, I (Adriel), researched and attended the Virginia Young Professionals Summit to gain the attention of Senator Mark Warner and staffers who were also in attendance. Despite being the only student at the summit, I managed to meet Sam Taylor, Warner’s Outreach Representative. Through him, we secured a much desired meeting with Senator Warner’s staff a few days later.

To prepare, we visited ONE’s headquarters in DC to get hands-on training in advocacy. There, we learned how to make our case to Congressional staffers both persuasive and effective. We returned armed with loads of powerful and compelling statistics about the Electrify Africa Act and fired up to make our voices heard.

Inspired by our meeting with ONE staff we decided to launch a letter writing campaign at our high school. We pitched our campaign to teachers and helped students compose letters asking for the Senator’s support for the Act. In a week, we gathered close to a 150 hand-written letters, which we brought with us to the Senator’s office.

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From Left: Mariya Ali (ONEVoice), Marissa Sumathipala (ONEVoice), Morgan Moran (ONE Campaign), Adriel Sumathipala (ONEVoice), Lauren Dargan (ONEVoice), Brandi Geurkink (ONE Campaign) and David Farajollahi (Sen. Warner’s Constituent Advocate)

After many long days of preparation, it was go time. Four of us – Marissa Sumathipala, Adriel Sumathipala, Lauren Dargan, and Mariya Ali – traveled to Sen. Warner’s office, accompanied by ONE staffers Brandi Geurkinkand Morgan Moran. This meeting was intimidating, rewarding, and the culmination of a year’s worth of advocacy, campaigning, dedication, and hard work.

In reflecting on the meeting, Lauren said, “I think, as young as we are, being able to interact with lawmakers on critical global issues was a wonderful experience.”

As a parting note, we are a group of high school students with no experience in advocacy, no political connections, and minimal understanding of congressional proceedings. All we know is that we care enough to make ourselves heard. We urge you too to meet with your Senator to ask for his or her support for important legislation like the Electrify Africa Act. Imagine what we could achieve if all young adults united to end extreme poverty. Even if that only entailed taking 10 minutes to write to their Congressmen to let them know how important energy poverty was to them or signing a petition letting world leaders know poverty *is* sexist and that women and children get a raw deal.

Join the good fight and let’s end extreme poverty because inaction is irresponsible. If you are in college, join or start a ONE Campus at your school here and if you are in high school, become a ONE volunteer here. Mostly importantly, become a force for good.

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