Update: CRS student ambassadors stress need for human dignity to Congress

IMAGE: CNS photo/Dennis Sadwoski

By Dennis Sadowski

(CNS) — Denise Ssettimba
just began her brief presentation to an aide to Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana,
on the need to maintain U.S. funding for global anti-hunger efforts when two
congressional dining staffers with food carts in tow asked to squeeze by in a
busy hallway in the Dirksen
Senate Office Building.

The 18-year-old
Xavier University of Louisiana
student stepped a little closer into the tight circle around the aide, Kaitlyn Dwyer, staying on message.

want to share that there are a lot of ways that this aid helps people avoid migration,”
Ssetimba said.

Fellow Xavier
University students Ja’Che
Malone and Sarah
Bertrand and Madeleine Woolverton,
a student at Tulane University, picked up the call as Ssetimba finished.

issues of global hunger and migration are intimately linked because hunger is
one of the causes of migration,” Woolverton said. “When we can
provide funding for programs that can provide sustainable solutions … not creating
dependency but creating systemic change in farming communities, we can prevent some
of these problems.”

The four
students asked Dwyer to be sure to share with Kennedy their concern that no
funding be cut from international poverty-reducing programs.

Preserving current
spending levels for disaster relief, health care, nutrition, anti-human
trafficking efforts, migration and refugee assistance is a major priority of
Catholic Relief Services and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

students from New Orleans, part of the CRS Student Ambassador Leaders Together initiative, were
helping carry that message to Congress July 18. In a second meeting, they were able
to share their concerns directly with Sen. Bill Cassidy after talking for 15 minutes with Maria Sierra, a policy adviser
to the Louisiana Republican.

They joined
more than 150 students from 58 Catholic and non-Catholic colleges and
universities who participated in the four-day Student Ambassador Leadership Summit July 15-18 organized
by CRS.

students spent their last day of the summit visiting members of Congress,
sharing the same message that Archbishop
Paul D. Etienne of Anchorage, Alaska, and Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, Philippines, brought to
Capitol Hill a day earlier.

The programs
they addressed were targeted for an overall 36 percent cut in federal spending in the
White House Office of Management and Budget’s proposed fiscal year 2019 spending outline.
The OMB plan seeks to reduce funding to $15.1 billion from nearly $23.8
billion authorized for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Such
spending comprises about 0.5 percent of the federal budget.

Having so many young
people bringing a consistent message to Congress was sure to have an impact, Kathleen Kahlau, senior adviser at
CRS, told the students before they fanned out across Capitol Hill.

“You’re bringing some
good news. Not the Gospel in the religious sense, but good news in the sense
that you’re sharing with these staffers the fact that what America does through
its aid is effective, is efficient, does really save lives,” Kahlau said.

Three days preparing for
the congressional visits served to create broader awareness of the work of CRS and
deeper understanding of the importance of U.S. aid for that work, students
said. Several students who are CRS campus ambassadors told Catholic News
Service they were willing to step away from jobs, summer internships and
research projects to advocate for people without a voice.

“Coming here has
shown me how everything is so connected,” said Emily Baca, a student at St. Martin’s University in
Lacey, Washington. “I think that this program can really help by
bringing together different people who are passionate in different ways.”

Manhattan College student Kaiyun Chen explained
that although she doesn’t practice any faith, she was motivated to become
involved as a campus ambassador because of the nature of the agency’s work.

“When I was
introduced to the organization and asked to be a student ambassador I was
thinking about what the organization stands for and what they believe in and
what they do for other people and it makes me feel more passionate toward what
I can do,” Chen said.

Students also said they planned
to return to their campuses this fall ready to share what they learned about
the global work of CRS and encourage others to join them in promoting the

“We want to bring
more attention to global issues,” said Carla Aguirre Puerto, a student at the University of San
Diego, following a meeting with an aide to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California. “We need
to be more aware of and advocating for the services provided across the

It’s that role as an
advocate that motivated Kaitlyn
Toth, a political science major at Ohio State University student, to
become a campus ambassador two years ago and make the trip to Washington this
year. She earlier worked with the Diocese of Cleveland’s Catholic Charities Migration
and Refugee Services and saw the challenges facing migrants around the world.

“I really believe
there’s power in each individual’s voice,” she said. “Spending time
and showing up and showing people that you do care enough to speak for others
holds a lot of weight.”

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

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