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Saint Mary’s hosts summer leadership institute

Kaitlyn Rabach | Thursday, August 29, 2013

 

Editor’s Note: A version of this article appeared in the South Bend Tribune on Aug. 24. Kaitlyn Rabach served as a student program coordinator for the Study of the United States Institute.

Saint Mary’s has a 169-year history of women’s leadership. The college’s founders, the Sisters of the Holy Cross, crossed many boundaries as they traveled to Indiana from Le Mans, France. Over the years the sisters have worked hard to meet the needs of the South Bend community through avenues like education and health care, while also acting globally.

Similarly, the students at this Catholic women’s college cross boundaries often, serving Michiana as volunteers and interns while choosing, in many cases, to study abroad. So notes Elaine Meyer-Lee, director of the college’s Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership (CWIL).

For the second summer in a row, the college has connected the global community with South Bend’s local needs in a unique way. This year Saint Mary’s hosted 19 undergraduate women leaders from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya and Tunisia for a five-week U.S. Department of State sponsored program titled “Study of the United States Institute” (SUSI) for Student Leaders on Women’s Leadership.

“We are very gratified the State Department recognized the college’s accomplishments in promoting intercultural exchange by awarding us this grant,” Meyer-Lee said. “It is this type of exchange that broadens everyone’s horizons.”

This program not only offered global interaction for faculty and students at Saint Mary’s, but also for several service organizations in South Bend. Each of the 19 participants volunteered in the community for a total of 12 hours, Meyer-Lee said.

“For the participants’ curriculum, we cover various proficiencies we think women should acquire to become effective agents of change,” said Mana Derakhshani, the SUSI academic director and associate director of CWIL. “The theory they get in the classroom is reinforced with the practice at the service locations.”

This year’s service locations included the Center for the Homeless, Chiara Home El Campito, Hannah’s House, Hope Ministries, Saint Margaret’s House, Sister Brannick Clinic and North Central Indiana YWCA.

“We picked the locations carefully to fit the theme of women’s leadership and rights,” Meyer-Lee said. “Many of the service placements have strong women leaders running the programs and many of these places are focused on serving women’s needs, which dovetails with the curriculum.”

Derakhshani said many of the participants only knew about the United States from Hollywood movies and TV shows, contributing to misconceptions.

“They see extremes like gangsters and criminality as well as very rich and very plastic Hollywood images of women,” Derakhshani said. “The service component, among other aspects of this program, helps to debunk some of those stereotypes. This way, participants can meet individuals from diverse ethnic, racial and economic backgrounds.”

Anood, an 18-year-old Jordanian college student, volunteered at Saint Margaret’s House in South Bend for her 12 service hours. (The State Department does not permit the participants last names to be published.) She said volunteering at the day house for women allowed her to see the importance of communicating and befriending others.

“This house is all about giving to people in need,” Anood said. “You give to them by being friends with them, by communicating with them and by becoming close to them rather than just offering them food, money or other needs.”

For most of these women, this type of service is not common in their home countries. Hajer, a 21-year-old Libyan college student, said volunteering in Libya is very different from volunteering in the States.

“What I saw at St. Margaret’s House was volunteers giving their time on a regular basis and volunteering long term,” Hajer said. “In Libya, this kind of volunteering is usually only for a few days. Most of my peers volun-teer for nonprofits as project managers.”

Kathy Schneider, executive director of St. Margaret’s House, said the young women have been working with the house’s Girls Club, which serves young girls from ages 8 to 13.

“This has been a very humanizing experience,” Schneider said. “These young girls see their world being much bigger than just their house and town. They then think if these girls could come all the way here maybe one day they could travel the world as well.”

Anood said her experience with the Girls Club was very much related to the concepts learned during her SUSI experience.

“SUSI is all about overcoming obstacles and crossing borders together to make a brighter future for each and every woman,” Anood said. “At the Girls Club, we learned a leader should be a person who gives support to others and serves others. If a leader can’t give to the community or the people around her than she is not a true leader.”