Melilla, global poverty and the student life

I learnt about Christianity at school and became a committed Christian when I was 14 years old. My Christian faith partly influenced my decision to devote my life to campaigning for justice and helping those less fortunate than myself. It also led to my decision to study International Development Studies and Spanish at the University of Chester.

When people me ask me what I study, they don’t usually understand what it is and for some reason jump to the conclusion that I study Business, which is completely different to what I actually study. International Development is the study of the development of greater quality of life for humans, particularly those in third world countries. This therefore includes foreign aid, governance, healthcare, education, poverty reduction, gender equality, disaster preparedness, infrastructure, economics, human rights, environment and issues associated with these.

World issues can sometimes be easy to overlook for those of us who are living in developed and wealthy countries. Helping the poor is a huge topic in the Bible, but we don’t always realise the consequences that our everyday actions can have on the poor, such as buying clothes from sweatshops, consuming food that has been produced in exploitative conditions or using transport that generates pollution.

I’m currently spending the third year of my degree abroad teaching English in Melilla, a Spanish colony on the north coast of Africa. Melilla is a European city surrounded by Morocco, which enables the contrast between European and African cultures to become more clearly visible for me. The border between Spain and Morocco is only a 15 minute walk away from my house. However, although Morocco is not the most restricted country on earth, it is definitely not the most free either.

It is acceptable to be a Christian in Morocco, but it is unacceptable to convert from Islam to Christianity. Melilla is seen as a crossroads between Europe and Africa; therefore many Moroccans risk their lives trying to cross the border in order to be able to live the free and privileged lifestyles that we so often take for granted.

Sometimes it is difficult to say how we can take action on such issues. One of the main ways to take action for me personally is through raising awareness. If we talk about these issues on Facebook, in our everyday lives or in church I think people will become motivated to make a difference. Those guilty of contributing to world issues try to mask it and I think one of the best things we can do is to highlight them for everybody to see. As we have seen with all the media attention on the recent death of Nelson Mandela, the life of once person really can make a difference.

At the moment my future career options once I’ve finished my degree are working in non-profit organisations, politics or teaching in order to educate people about world issues. My experience so far in Melilla has been a really interesting insight into teaching and perhaps when I return to the UK I will be more certain about which path I need to take to achieve my ideal profession.

By Lauren Stevens. You can read more blog posts from Lauren on her blog here