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Students have lunch with reformer

Kristen Edelen | Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Libusa Radkova, a reformer in her native country of Slovakia, sat down for lunch Monday with Saint Mary’s students, faculty and staff during the Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership’s (CWIL) fifth Leadership Luncheon of the semester. Her visit came after a long journey from eastern Europe.

Radkova decided to travel to Saint Mary’s to learn about the CWIL-implemented Bridges Out of Poverty program. She intends to spend time at local non-profit organizations, such as the Hope Rescue Mission, and witness Bridges Out of Poverty in action – so she can bring ideas from the program back to Slovakia.

“It is very useful to see [social] problems from outside, from a point of different culture,” she said.

Radkova spoke to 25 to 30 people, the largest audience at a CWIL luncheon yet, about the state of social work and the problems with poverty in Slovakia. She also highlighted her own individual work and research as a social work professor at St. Elisabeth University in Bratislava.

The idea of charitable giving exists in the U.S., but not in Slovakia, she said. A great dependence on government was created during the totalitarian regime, which was ended in 1989 by the Velvet Revolution. But even today, she said, “a subtle but powerful fear exists” for citizens to engage in the previously outlawed idea of community.

Bonnie Bazata, the associate director for CWIL, said the idea behind the Bridges Out of Poverty model is to encourage a community to help alleviate problems surrounding poverty. She also suggests that a college can partner with the community to help solve these problems.

Radkova is considered revolutionary because she helped to pioneer social work as a field of study at St. Elisabeth University, which was something original in her country.

Leadership Luncheons will continue next semester as often as once every two weeks. The next speaker will be Paula Dawning, the former superintendent of Benton Harbor schools in Michigan, who is a current member on the College’s Board of Trustees, Fritzler said.

Senior Sarita Fritzler, a student worker for CWIL, said speakers scheduled for each Leadership Luncheon are usually from the community and will always be women.

“But having Libusa, from abroad, was such a great opportunity,” she said.

The CWIL and Board of Governance-sponsored Leadership Lunch series began this semester as an avenue for students at Saint Mary’s to interact with women in the community, Fritzler says.