What on Earth are "Just Peoples”?

In 2009 I bought a ticket to Vietnam to fulfil my dream of working at an orphanage. I was hosted by a local NGO along with 25 or so other enthusiastic people from around the world - all of us paying relatively large sums of money to volunteer our time and skills to help. 

One day, as I watched a 7 year old girl with HIV eat a raw sparrow (still covered in feathers and beak), I wondered where our volunteer participation fees, as well as the donations from individuals and businesses that the NGO frequently received, were actually going.

After some investigation, I discovered that the head monk who ran the orphanage drove round in a BMW while the director of the NGO spent the donations on lavish holidays around Europe and designer handbags. Meanwhile these poor, poor children were intentionally being kept in poverty to attract ongoing donations from people passing through.

This knowledge made me sick and furious.  

Not long after, I began working on another project with a passionate Vietnamese woman who constantly gave up her humble salary to the people she was working with, so they could invest it in tiny enterprises. She knew the local context and the complexities of the local issues and was effectively improving people's lives through grassroots, sustainable initiatives. The only problem was, she couldn't access ongoing funds to run her projects. 

Why was all the funding and resources going to the powerful corrupt NGO while this grassroots organisation that is actually effective in alleviating poverty, didn’t have enough to run? At the same time, all of the well-meaning intentions and actions of the volunteers working through the corrupt NGO were also being wasted - There were often six volunteers in a room looking after two orphans. The abundant supply and demand were not connecting.

In 2012 a research project took me back to Japan, where I was slapped in the face with unfiltered inequality. In a country where most members of society's basic needs are met, it appeared that many people were choosing to spend their excess wealth on an expensive pair of shoes they may only wear twice. Or on a gold chain that is marginally different from their nine other gold chains. What's up with that?

Meanwhile, my good mate Jo was on a similar journey and was raging just as much as me. As she was working in a Himalayan village in India she came across a woman who needed $300 for a life-changing operation. Less than half the cost of her own iPhone sitting in her back pocket. How can it be, she wondered, that some people are forced to sift through other people’s rubbish overnight looking for something to sell to make their $1/day, while others can spend $800 on a phone they “couldn’t live without”? 

Experiencing extreme poverty followed by the wealth and good fortune that we enjoy in New Zealand and Australia (and Japan), compelled Jo and me to contemplate our privileged position in the world, and gave us a burning desire to do something about this hideous inequality. 

We decided to join forces and turn our rage into action. Leveraging our hybrid position of living amongst both poverty and riches, we chose to start an organisation that connects the resources of determined individuals who want to fight poverty and injustice, with people that really need some financial support to run their projects.

We thought about what we stand for. Justice. And people. And peoples - Meaning the different cultures and groups of people that make up the remarkable human race. We believe that all of us, rich and poor, New Zealander, Vietnamese, Ghanaian and Guatemalan, are all just people, trying to make the best of this outrageous journey called life. And we have a responsibility as part of this human network to ensure that all members can live a life of dignity and justice. As such, we found the perfect name for our organisation: Just Peoples.

So last month as we launched our first three projects, we were excited about being able to apply solutions to some of the awful situations we'd witnessed; effectively turning our outrage into action. But what we weren't expecting was such a roar of support from not only family and friends but also by distant acquaintances and complete strangers, all of whom were eager to get on board and find out how they can contribute.

It turns out that a lot of people born “lucky” have long been raging about injustice and looking for a chance to make their impact on the world. People are reconnecting with their innate humanity and using their powers to benefit all of us, poor and rich. Just Peoples has therefore in just one month, gone from being a couple of Kiwis doing what they can, to a budding social movement!

Here's a chance for everyone to use their talents, skills, passions or cash, to help out our brothers and sisters in need. And collectively we can achieve so much! As C.S. Lewis summed up nicely, “It is one thing to do an isolated act of justice; it is something else altogether to be a just person.”

Join the movement, it's better than shopping. 


StoriesErin Stewart