February 18, 2009
by Brian Weinberg, Director, Recycle to Eradicate Poverty
Brian Weinberg (left)
Each of us has a unique set of convictions to pursue. My own fell into place unexpectedly, after I read a Fortune Magazine article highlighting Dr. Muhammad Yunus's vision to "put poverty into the museums."
I had just arrived home, after studying Spanish in Buenos Aires and trekking 2,858 miles (4600km) alone throughout South America. Reading this article summoned the mental snapshots of several "Shanty Towns" from my recent trip, inspiring a personal call to action.
I had heard the statistics and seen television ads or charity campaigns; however, my hand had lifted only to assist "the poor" on the right occasion and at my convenience. These numbers, though, did not allow me to fully comprehend the concept of poverty. Seeing, speaking, and living with people in these situations put the reality of poverty into perspective for me. I was able to see some of the images that make these daunting statistics. What does it mean when someone does not have "access to safe drinking water?" In the city of Lima, as I stood on the edge of a Peruvian mountain in the Andes, which overlooked 5 million out of the 9 million people living in poverty along the coastline, I realized the true meaning of these words. It meant the struggle of carrying government- distributed water, which had been poured into large blue barrels up the side of a mountain for personal/family access.
The first thing that came to mind after reading the article was to find a way to call Yunus and help him. I knew that I would somehow. I carried the article around with me in my pocket for about two weeks thinking about how revolutionary the concept would be for the world.
So when I discovered "The Chiapas Project," a Dallas-based microfinance organization, and its plans to create a program called Recycle to Eradicate Poverty (RTEP), there was no longer any question about my immediate future.
The goal was simple: recycle cell phones as a fundraiser for microfinance loans to the poor, brokering the loans through the Grameen Foundation, and the recycling through Phoneraiser. Since its inception at the University of North Texas in March 2007, Recycle to Eradicate Poverty has educated the community about the need to discard these items properly (because they contain toxic chemicals that can leach into water) and to become engaged in advancing the concept of microfinance loans to impoverished peoples. Today, anyone in the US can participate in this program for free, by requesting pre-paid mailers at www.turnphonesintoloans.org/.
Spearheaded by young professionals and students, Recycle to Eradicate Poverty is pledging to beat what it calls the "One Million Cell Phone Challenge". The objective is to obtain one million used cell phones before December 2009. In doing so, RTEP can save up to 350 trillion gallons of water from likely pollution and create opportunities for 100,000 people to rise out of poverty through microfinance loans.
Help beat the one million cell phone challenge by ordering prepaid baggies from www.turnphonesintoloans.org/.