Advocate a Cause
by Desiree Vlekken
One of the best things about advocating a cause that you care about is that there is very little “you” or “me” in it. Society tends to condition us to be inward-facing in many superficial ways, but promoting advocacies, if done truthfully, is selfless. It gives us the chance to use our blessings to bless others, not for want of personal glory, but simply out of genuine compassion.
Empowered by this authentic, altruistic energy, I founded the 4get-me-not Alzheimer’s – a non-profit organization aimed at raising awareness about Alzheimer’s and promoting brain health. My personal connection with Alzheimer’s is just one aspect of the advocacy. The bigger picture is that this disease remains one of the most critical global health issues. It has no cure, and its origins are still largely undetermined.
I started to take interest in how elderly people live when I went to Belgium, my husband’s motherland. My in-laws are in their mid-70’s just like my parents, but their way of life is very different. I could say that it’s more dynamic. They are still very outgoing, and they keep a social calendar. They don’t really like to stay at home for too long. Instead, they prefer to be in the company of friends and relatives. I surmise that this is why they are aging gracefully.
My parents on the other hand, particularly my father, prefer a very sedentary lifestyle. At first I thought that this was ok – but then I began seeing the negative consequences. My family and I did have enough knowledge to recognize depression, and how it poses elevated health risks to the elderly. It was in 2011, at the age of 70 when my father started showing symptoms of early on-set Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is a stigmatized subject matter. The stigma is associated often with suffering, loss of mind, loss of independence and disability. The fear of this stigmatization may delay patients and their families from seeking timely medical diagnosis — even when the symptoms are already obvious. This is where the importance of raising awareness comes in. 4get-me-not represents a small but stalwart voice in the ongoing dialogue about this disease, but in order for us to sustain our mission, we need all the help we can get – by way of volunteerism, sponsorships, and yes, social media advocacy.
A lot of people think that the only way to support an advocacy is to give cash donations or to volunteer their time. No charitable institution will ever turn down these kinds of support, but even something as simple as sharing a cause-related article on your Facebook page could be a huge help – especially if the objective is to raise global awareness. The point is to find a subject that you are passionate about and doing all that you can to make your passion contagious.
4get-me-not Alzheimer’s is the only entity of its kind in the UAE. When we launched 4get-me-not in 2013, very few understood, let alone cared about, our advocacy. We were getting very weak responses from the younger audiences, which was understandable, as Alzheimer’s is not a disease that is commonly attributed to the youth. But through the help of the private sector, we eventually earned the noise that we needed to sustain our advocacy for the long haul. I am happy to report that currently, the majority of our volunteers come from the age 18 and below bracket.
Practice altruism. Being Altruistic is the heart and soul of any advocacy. If you find that you only want to do it when it’s convenient, then your commitment is not strong enough. Personal sacrifices are needed for the advocacy to succeed.
Stay positive at all times. Promoting a worthwhile cause can be daunting. It offers many pitfalls where you can lose your motivation. Always look at the bright side of any situation, and keep your eye on your purpose.
Be flexible. Any start up advocacy will have a learning curve. Learn how to be mentally dexterous, whilst staying true to the heart of your cause. You’ll find yourself having to compromise on a lot of things. Accept this as part of the journey, and focus on making better choices.
Formalize commitments. Any type of support or commitment from third parties must always be in writing, or better yet, supported by a memorandum of understanding. This goes for your sponsors, volunteers, and even suppliers. Be extra vigilant in protecting the integrity of your organization wherever agreements are concerned.
Collaborate wisely. Connect with people, groups, or other organizations that can add value to your advocacy. Don’t try to work in silos – you will only make it harder for yourself. And anyway, working with others is always more fun. Advocacy must always be a team effort. One person can start an advocacy, but sustaining it requires the passion and courage of many.