The increase of rising temperatures, extreme droughts, and severe weather conditions are putting a strain on living conditions around the world, especially in less developed countries. College students in the United States are working together to protect the planet and bring awareness to these global issues.
On Friday, Nov. 11, Catholic Relief Services, Caritas Internationalis, and Fordham University's Graduate Program in International Political Economy and Development hosted 10 Catholic Relief Services (CRS) university chapters to discuss trends in global poverty and the global climate crisis. CRS student ambassadors, along with their leaders, believe they can make changes for a better future. The event took place at the Church Center of the United Nations.
Dr. Henry Schwalbenberg, chair of the IPED program at Fordham, along with graduate students, presented the 2022 version of the Pope Francis’ Global Poverty Index. The poverty indicators of the Poverty Index are divided into two groups: material well-being and spiritual well-being. The material well-being indicators focus on the primary needs of water, food, housing and employment. The spiritual well-being indicators measure the needs of gender equity, religious freedom and education.
Year after year, the index has proven that families around the world are suffering from a lack of basic needs as we see increased numbers of undernourishment, no access to clean water, poor housing and low wages.
One Planet, One Family
Bill O’Keefe, executive vice president for mission and mobilization at CRS, in the keynote address discussed how meeting the challenges of the current climate crisis can build a pathway towards better opportunities for the poor, allowing them to live the lives they always deserved. One Planet, One Family is the current campaign of CRS in its mission to combat climate change.
“Every day should be a day for the poor because a core principle of the Catholic Teaching is to have a preferential option for the poor,” O’Keefe said. “We shouldn’t have 364 days for the rich, and one day for the poor.”
Impact on Students
After hearing from Dr. Schwalbenerg and Mr. O’Keefe of CRS, students representing their universities plan to return to their CRS Ambassador chapters and share new ways to start conversations on poverty and climate change advocacy on their campuses.
“I think learning what we did today on global poverty, I definitely want to expand more, possibly host speakers to bring light to these issues. Also, maybe fundraise, or do something that way, to support our brothers and sisters around the world,” Holly Gola, senior global development and sustainability major at St. John’s University, said.
Skye Schultz, junior social work and psychology major from St. Thomas University, said the opportunity to advocate for issues on a global scale is the reason why she is a member of CRS Ambassadors.
“This is the only club that actually looked at a bigger level, and I think recognized the importance of political advocacy in creating change,” Schultz said. “Obviously, I could say don’t use straws, recycle, and do all those things, but the scale of this issue is so large that I feel like it comes down to voting for people who believe in climate change and want to do something about it. Also, take that second step of advocating after the fact and contacting your representatives, making your voice heard. I think that’s the way you can make the biggest impact.”
CRS chapters give students across the United States a unique sense of purpose in their college experience. While studying in their respective majors of choice, CRS chapter members are able to speak out and advocate for issues that affect all human beings - an opportunity to grow academically in four years, enriched by working with friends to help create a better world for the rest of their lives.
“I joined CRS, because I really, really loved the work that they do,” Sean Grossnickle, graduate student at Fordham University’s International Political Economy Development program, said. “I love how they integrate with local partners, and I love how CRS cares about what’s best for the people, and they’re willing to work with every organization who wants the betterment and goodwill of the people.”
Grossnickle went on to say how the benefit of belonging to CRS lies in the opportunity to see global issues firsthand while welcoming people of all faiths. He highlighted the fact that student ambassadors do not need to be Catholic, or even Christian, to participate on campus.
“Any experience with poverty helps you understand a lot of the situation around the world. There’s a lot of poor people in America and there’s a lot of poverty in America, and going to see that firsthand can really help create a connection to global poverty. Obviously, not to the same extent; it’s not the same being a poor person in America, as it is in Burkina Faso, but at the same time it really does help build an awareness for those issues.”
Omer Bin Someda, graduate student majoring in non-profit organizational management at Seton Hall University, said that the event at the U.N. was his first experience with CRS. He saw information about the event on Instagram and felt empowered to attend.
“First of all, we are human and we need to take care of each other,” he said. “Whatever happens in our world will come to you if you don’t take action. It is very important to know about these issues.”
Students who attended the conference from Neumann University are looking to start their own CRS chapter by using what they learned to recruit students on their campus and bring awareness to these issues.
“Neumann would benefit from having a CRS chapter on campus, because it is important to learn about issues happening around the world instead of just the United States,” Zykia Wright, a sophomore English major from Neumann University, said. “Neumann is a service school - we spend our days and hours giving back to the community around us. CRS would help push us to do more than what we are already doing, globally and beyond just our campus.”
The summit ended with students hearing from a panel of current U.N. representatives who were once in the same chairs, learning about global justice issues and building a career out of their passion to help others.
To advocate with CRS in support of funding for the Green Climate Fund now, please visit this website to share your message and make a difference.
If you would like more information on how your college or university can begin a CRS University Chapter, please contact Annie Bailey at Annie.Bailey@crs.org.
Layal Srour is a 2022 Graduate of Cabrini University and Former President of the CRS Cabrini Chapter.
Faith Pitsikoulis is a 2022 Graduate of Cabrini University and Former Social Media Officer.