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6/9/2014 4:46:00 PM
Relief organization head speaks to UP students
Photo courtesy of Sierra Huitt
Andrew Herzog, Emma Irwin, Halle Sheehan, Pat Ell, Michele Broemmelsiek of CRS and and Anne Luÿten.
Photo courtesy of Sierra Huitt
Andrew Herzog, Emma Irwin, Halle Sheehan, Pat Ell, Michele Broemmelsiek of CRS and and Anne Luÿten.

The irony was not lost. In an air-conditioned conference room at the University of Portland, Michele Broemmelsiek remembered Zambians hiding from man-eating lions and dealing with equatorial heat.

Broemmelsiek, vice president of overseas operations for Catholic Relief Services, also discussed how the organization designs programs to assist the one-quarter of Zambians who live with HIV.

Catholic Relief Services is the U.S. church’s official international aid agency.

Also present at the gathering were Lauretta Frederking, associate professor of political science; Pat Ell, assistant director for leadership development at the Moreau Center for Service and Leadership; and eight students, who had gathered to probe the reality of international aid, and the relevance of global poverty to young people in Portland.

Broemmelsiek was in Portland for a meeting hosted by Mercy Corps. Aid leaders are deciding how to improve development work through innovation. Students in Frederking’s Politics and Film class had been discussing the complexities of foreign aid.

Broemmelsiek, who spent much of the last 19 years in Africa and East Asia, said collecting feedback from compassionate U.S. Catholics is not only life-giving, but necessary for organizations like CRS. She called it “utterly refreshing to talk with young leaders.”

To one political science major, who had researched the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Broemmelsiek explained that with decades of partnerships in the region before the disaster, CRS was an effective leader, and is still working four years later for stable economic development.

“Everywhere we work,” she explained, “we have the reputation for long-term relationships, transparency, and going where no one else will go.”

Everyone on hand wondered how to bridge the local-global divide. How, they wondered, do HIV in Zambia and the pressures of global climate change on the poor connect with the lives of Oregon Catholics?

“The truth is that the largest problems in our world require global cooperation,” said Broemmelsiek. She told students that the Catholic faith, with its universal support for the dignity of human life and one global human family, provides the cornerstone for social change.

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