Foreign crises urge students to take action
As news of foreign crises reaches Houston students, opportunities to get involved locally are presented on campus.
On Wednesday, The Honors College hosted a speaker from the humanitarian organization Cooperation for Assistance and Relief Everywhere to discuss the importance of empowering women in developing nations wrought with conflict.
The lecture was organized by professors Shasta Jones and Irene Guenther of The Honors College as a part of their series on human rights and social justice. The women’s empowerment lecture was the first for the spring semester, following two lectures in the series during the fall.
“This was one way to take the subjects of our combined classes and bring in speakers to present real-life applications,” Jones said.
Jones teaches courses on global health services and health and human rights, and Guenther teaches a class on genocide. The two won a QEP Curriculum Development Grant from the school to promote research in classrooms.
Philippe Nassif, regional advocacy coordinator and primary organizer for the Houston branch of CARE, headed the discussion.
“We wanted to emphasize that it’s an informal conversation to hear about (the students’) studies and plans after college, as well as to inform them about working with CARE,” Nassif said.
CARE International, which operates in more than 80 countries, was born from the “care packages” that emerged in the 1940s with World War II relief efforts. It focuses on developing countries in central and southern Africa and Asia, mainly those affected by uprisings and revolutions.
“These places need help from countries with the right resources, and the U.S. is at the top of that list,” Nassif said.
After several congressmen voted to cut foreign aid funds, Nassif and his team took some of these representatives to the Indian slums to demonstrate the true effects of foreign aid and how the local communities will suffer from the cuts.
“If you leave here having learned one thing today,” Nassif said, “know that less than one percent of the entire federal budget goes to international development work — including embassy security, foreign-exchange students and study-abroad programs.”
Very little of CARE’s funding comes from the federal government. Its primary donor is the Gates Foundation and a few UN grants. These entities fund international programs while aid agencies, like CARE, provide expertise and strategy.
The main way CARE aims to eliminate global poverty is by empowering women and girls in developing countries in order to reverse the local economies that are currently suffering. In areas where the cultural mentality is focused on young boys, the standard of living could increase dramatically if girls were educated and women allowed to work.
Nassif’s advocacy region consists of 14 states including Texas. After the economic downturn of 2008 and the political climate of the nation, advocacy has come to play a vital role in global aid.
“(More than) 10 million people in the world fell in to poverty after the first two months of the U.S. economic crisis,” Nassif said. “People have turned inward to worry about their own finances, but we as Americans have a responsibility to those affected by our market.”
Regarding current events, Syria poses the biggest challenge to organizations like CARE and the international community in general, with six million refugees and 11 million internally displaced peoples.
When war breaks out, women and girls tend to be affected the most. They are displaced to camps where they cannot work because they were never taught to read or write, and they face the threat of rape and gender-based violence on a daily basis. In addition, polio has re-emerged in refugee camps.
“The national mentality in the U.S. only sees the political conflict and is hesitant to provide aid in Syria,” Nassif said.
Students can engage locally by attending regional CARE conferences to strategize and organize in their neighborhoods or by hosting film screenings and panel discussions on campus.
Anthropology senior Laura Johnson, who is a representative of the Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refugees, is helping to organize a screening of the documentary “Girl, Rising” on campus.
“It’s an exciting prospect — a UH collaboration with CARE,” Johnson said.
Another student motivated by the lecture was biology sophomore Sadia Tsnim, who told of her experiences living in Bangladesh and encountering aid agencies.
“I personally appreciate the work that CARE has done in my home country of Bangladesh,” Tsnim said. “There has been huge improvement in the past 10 years thanks to the aid of organizations like CARE.”
The next lecture of the series, “Death Penalty in the U.S.,” will be held on April 1 in The Honors College.