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'Do the thing that is yours to do': Summit asks student leaders to connect local actions with international impact

Thinking globally while acting locally has always been a critical component of the mission for Creighton University’s Schlegel Center for Service and Justice.

For three days in July, a quartet of Creighton students took part in Catholic Relief Services’ third biennial Student Ambassador Leaders Together (SALT) Summit at the CRS headquarters in Baltimore and in advocacy work in Washington, D.C., learning firsthand the far-reaching connections between choices made close to home and effects resonating halfway around the world.

“It’s not always easy to think about,” said Emily Reeson, a sophomore neuroscience major and SCSJ leader who was tapped for the conference and worked on CRS initiatives as a high-schooler. “But being aware of what we do, what we consume, what we buy, what energy we use, what we waste, those things we do here have a connection to what happens in the rest of the world. The whole idea of the conference was to take what we learned and connect it back to our campuses.”

The summit welcomed 175 students from 60 institutions, including Creighton’s contingent comprising Reeson, Abby Smith, Alexandra Canto and Anna Ferguson. The summit has more than doubled in size since its inaugural event in 2014. Creighton has been sending student leaders to the summit since its inception.

Active in more than 100 countries, CRS has always had an interest in getting at the root causes of poverty, migration, homelessness and world hunger.

Much of the organization’s work and findings have pointed to the connections between the developed world’s consumption and the humanitarian crisis fomenting in the underdeveloped world as the result of exploitation of resources and people, perpetuating a cycle of poverty.

Smith, a junior psychological science major who was also part of the Creighton delegation at the summit, took part in the University’s Encuentro Dominicano program last fall and saw the kind of benefits that stem from taking local steps, both at home and abroad, to address complex international problems.

“I’m hoping I can tie those experiences during Encuentro back to what we learned at the conference,” Smith said. “In Encuentro, we talked a lot about economic development and the positives and negatives of a more prosperous country coming into to help a struggling one. If emergency aid is necessary, it’s great that countries are able to step in, but what’s really needed is sustainable human aid.”

During her Encuentro experience, Smith saw such a program in action at the Alta Gracia Apparel factory, from which Creighton buys some of the clothing for sale in the University’s bookstore. The factory provides sustainable, living-wage work for more than 130 employees in a building that was once a sweatshop.

“After seeing the factory and learning what we did at the conference, it was clear that there is more we can do in terms of concrete steps at Creighton,” Smith said. “Even if it’s just being aware of your choices, at least you’re thinking about the international impact of what you do.”

On the third day of the summit, students went to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers and talk about the importance of U.S. aid to help foster justice, peace and opportunity around the world. The Creighton students met with aides from the offices of Nebraska’s Congressional delegation.

In an America increasingly looking inward at domestic issues, pulling up stakes in international treaties and partnerships and actively discouraging immigration, the students reminded politicians of the U.S.’s legacy of global outreach and role in welcoming people from around the world looking to make a new start.

“We were trying to tell them that stability abroad means stability at home,” Smith said.

The message was also clear that a more peaceful world is not only the work of policymakers and those in authority.

“One of the speakers at the conference quoted St. Francis of Assisi: ‘Do the thing that is yours to do,’” Reeson said. “Each individual person is called to create a more just, a more peaceful world. But we also know that justice takes time and patience is part of working for that world. But it is our work to do and we hope we can continue to find ways to connect it with what we do in the SCSJ and at Creighton, as a campus.”

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