SMC students attend international SALT Summit
Gina Twardosz | Wednesday, August 22, 2018
Over the summer, Saint Mary’s juniors Anne Maguire and Chiara Smorada traveled to Washington D.C. to attend the SALT (Summit Adventure Leadership Training) Summit, an event which sought to gather 150 student ambassadors from around the country in order to enhance their advocacy and leadership skills.
The Summit, sponsored by Catholic Relief Services (CRS), focused on various social issues, including anti-human trafficking, climate change awareness, migration and refugee reform and global hunger.
Smorada said in an email that CRS built the Summit around the mission statement, “I am the Cause. I am the Solution.”
“Sometimes, when I hear about suffering around the world I feel powerless and frustrated — there are moments when I feel very isolated and insignificant in society,” she said.
Maguire said this mission statement is akin to a call to action.
“[The statement] calls us all to hold ourselves accountable for the problems we have created as humans and, at the same time, recognizes how we need to start taking the steps to fix the problems that we’ve caused in order to live in a better world,” she said.
The summit largely consisted of lectures from international Catholic Relief Services employees, as well as presentations from students, Maguire said.
“Some students shared the projects that they’re involved in on their own campuses and the campaigning that they do,” she said. “[At the Summit] we can share ideas and collectively move forward in the best way that we can [in order to] find ways to address social justice issues on our own campuses.”
The Summit energized Smorada’s desire to start mobilizing events at the College, she said.
“To me, more than anything, the Summit was an energizer and eye-opener,” she said. “As I learned more about the work CRS does both overseas and domestically, I felt a desire to mobilize on Saint Mary’s campus. Hearing about other college and university chapters also gave me some event ideas.”
Maguire said her group got the chance to come together with a few of the staff members who work under U.S. senators from Indiana Todd Young and Joe Donnelly and U.S. representative Jackie Walorski. Maguire said they even had the opportunity to meet with Donnelly for a few moments.
“The highlight for me was being on Capitol Hill,” she said. “We met … Donnelly in person, but he was on the move so we only got to talk briefly. I just remember him saying to us, ‘you’re doing God’s work, keep it up.’ So he seemed very supportive and his office was very supportive. In general, all of the offices were very supportive.”
Maguire said that she advises those doing advocacy work in congressional offices have “a clear and concise ask” as to efficiently direct the meeting so that they can effectively get their message across.
“At our specific congressional meetings, we were talking about increasing funding for international development plans and humanitarian aid so that people — wherever they’re living — can feel safe and comfortable living there,” she said. “For the 2019 fiscal budget, there’s a certain amount of money that’s been proposed that would go to humanitarian and development programs to help communities around the world that are low-income and struggling in some way. Essentially, funding these programs would help improve their living situations now, but also work on sustainable solutions so that people can grow in their own communities and empower themselves to create sustainable livelihoods for the future.”
The most surprising thing about these congressional meetings, Maguire said, was that everyone, regardless of political ideology, found some kind of common ground.
“We spoke to political offices on both sides of the political spectrum — Republican and Democratic offices — and with our proposal, we were not sure before our meetings what the outcome would be,” she said. “I was really struck by the fact that, on both sides, we were able to reach some common ground on the issue of respecting the dignity of human beings and trying to uphold that through any kind of support. I was reminded that we can’t make assumptions about people who are different from us because we can still reach common ground despite their position in politics. We should be open to hearing another person’s perspective, despite our differences.”
Smorada said these congressional meetings challenged her preconceived notions on reaching out to national, state and local representatives.
“Hearing both his support and encouragement from his staffers made me feel less hesitant to reach out to my representatives in the future. Now I know they want to hear from us,” she said.
Maguire said students who feel passionately about social justice issues should let their heart guide them.
“Start where you are, start with your own passions,” she said. “Everyone is different — everyone has different interests, everyone has different passions. If you’re starting where your heart is, you can go really far. We need people who think differently, who act differently, who see the world in different ways.”