Ask What You Can Do for Your Planet

A call to recruit an international army of volunteers


| Utne Reader March / April 2007



Surgical assistant Rachel Heule had planned her pleasure trip to Tahiti for months. Her itinerary included plenty of time for sunbathing on the beaches by day and partying in the disco clubs at night. She even took a second job to earn enough money to make it all happen. Then she read an article in NEED magazine about the life-changing, lifesaving surgeries that the nonprofit organization Mercy Ships provides free to those who lack the most basic health services in some of the world's poorest countries. On the spot, Rachel decided to volunteer.

Thousands of others responding to external promptings and inner callings are signing up to do environmental healing, social justice, and humanitarian aid work around the world. After spending spring of 2001 in Kenya through the School for International Training's study abroad program, Emily Verellen and Karen Austrian founded the Binti Pamoja (Daughters United in Swahili) Center, a reproductive health and women's rights program for teenage girls in the Kibera slum of Nairobi. Professional urban planner Holly Pearson spent six months in La Plata, Argentina, working with Fundaci—n Biosfera to create a plan for reducing the city's energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Former web programmer Matt Berg now heads the Geekcorps' Last Mile Initiative, a program focused on improving access to communications technology in rural Mali.

Over the next 10 to 20 years a daunting array of potentially calamitous crises will come to a head: global warming and climate change; depletion of groundwater and fossil fuel; the pandemic spread of HIV/AIDS; proliferation of nuclear weapons and small arms; the expanding gulf between the rich and the poor; and the conflict between secularism and fundamentalism. The list goes on.

The scale and severity of these crises goes beyond what even coordinated international governmental action can remedy. Millions if not hundreds of millions of volunteers of all ages need to step up if we have any chance of maintaining a viable planet for our children and future generations.

National service of some sort, either in the military or in alternative arenas (such as teaching in the inner city or cleaning up toxic waste sites) is well established in more than 30 countries, including Germany, Sweden, China, Chile, New Zealand, Russia, and Israel. But national service is not enough. We need to think beyond traditional governments and recognized borders. We need an independent, nongovernmental, worldwide citizens' movement of school-age children, college-age students, midlife adults, and postcareer retirees. We need an Earth Corps for Global Service.

'In our globalized world, the threats we face are interconnected