Reception hosted by interfaith group sparks movement toward debt solutions

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Student representatives from campus political organizations met with Eric LeCompte, the executive director of Jubilee USA Network, at a community reception Wednesday evening to learn more about the organization’s work revolving around international and student debt.

Jubilee USA Network, an alliance of U.S. organizations, faith communities and global partners, aims to cancel debts in impoverished countries and foster what the group calls a just international economy through advocacy, media outreach and public education efforts.

During the event, which was organized by Jubilee USA and attended by about 60 students and community members, LeCompte addressed impoverished nations’ struggles in dealing with international debt.

For example, although the Philippines received aid after Typhoon Haiyan, the nation had to spend some of those funds repaying outstanding debts. Jubilee USA Network is lobbying the World Bank Group to grant a moratorium on the Philippines’ loans for the duration of the nation’s rebuilding process.

Representatives from Berkeley College Republicans and Cal Berkeley Democrats said Jubilee USA’s mission of working across borders that divide political and religious communities drew them to the event, which was held at Congregation Netivot Shalom on University Avenue.

BCR President Brendan Pinder said working with Jubilee USA may bridge the gap between student groups.

“Conversations never occur because of the divisions on campus that are, in large part, perceived and not real,” Pinder said.

Although the primary focus of the event was combating debt in impoverished countries, Jubilee USA also works on other issues, such as student debt.

“The local is global and the global is local,” LeCompte said. “At the end of the day, whether it’s the people who live in extreme poverty in the country of Zambia or whether it’s the students at UC Berkeley, they’re both getting trapped by these debt burdens.”

On a domestic scale, Jubilee USA coordinates religious communities to reach out to congressional representatives and pray for change. Earlier this year, for example, a number of congregations prayed to keep interest rates low on federal student loans, which were set to double in both 2012 and 2013 but did not.

LeCompte noted he had no interest in getting legislation introduced in Congress that does not initially have support from both political parties.

In the future, LeCompte said, he hopes to work with student groups from different political and religious backgrounds in a joint event to discuss responsible lending and borrowing. BCR and CalDems plan to hold such an event next semester.

“As important as these issues are that we’re working on, if we’re serious about being able to change the policies that keep people poor, we can only do that if we have people from different walks of life coming together and advocating for that to happen,” LeCompte said. “We often find that change and transformations happen when we’re able to bring unlikely actors together.”

Contact Tahmina Achekzai at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @tahminachekzai.