by Eliana Stanislawski and Diana Halikias; pictures by Nina Barker
In honor of Global Action Week, SCHOOL GIRLS UNITE took their annual trip to lobby on Capitol Hill. School Girls Unite is a coalition of young female activists advocating for the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, specifically gender equality and universal basic education as well as child marriage prevention and other human rights issues. The Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School chapter of School Girls Unite is comprised of some of the most well-spoken, passionate, and intelligent young activists around, and, as per usual, they lived up to those expectations while advocating on the Hill yesterday.
Of the thirteen young activists present, seven lobbied on the House side and six lobbied on the Senate side. Our objective was not only to raise awareness about investing in the futures of the out-of-school children around the world, but also to garner support for a relaunch of the Education for All Act. This bill seeks to ensure that U.S. policy contribute to a successful international effort to provide all children with a quality basic education by assisting other countries, NGOs, and multilateral organizations, as well as promoting education as the foundation for community development.
The team of School Girls Unite activists who visited the House of Representatives were lucky enough to have the opportunity to directly speak with two powerful, encouraging Representatives. Both Representatives Xavier Becerra and Chris Van Hollen have a history of support for universal education, but sitting in the meetings with them we still felt we made a difference by reminding them of the urgency of this cause. Our first meeting was with Becerra, who expressed support for the cause as well as an Education for All bill relaunch. His warm presence was a pleasure to experience - we even ended up sidetracked for a bit when he began asking us about future colleges and majors! Afterwards we met with Representative Chris Van Hollen as well as his Legislative Director, Sarah Schenning, both of whom have a long-standing relationship with School Girls Unite. Representative Van Hollen has been a strong champion for foreign aid, as well as legislation SGU has fought for in the past. The overwhelming positive response we received from Rep. Van Hollen and Schenning was inspiring; seeing such enthusiasm for foreign aid in the government is comforting at times like these. Overall, the House team was beyond satisfied with their experience and could not have been more proud of the work we did.
The other team who visited the house met with the staff of Senator Collins, Senator Mikulski, and Senator Cardin. In each one, we spoke eloquently and touched on many important points, including background on our organization, support for the Education For All Act, and the amount of money we believe Congress should appropriate for global education. We also requested that Senator Collins, a strong supporter of education, agree to co-sponsor the bill along with Senator Gillibrand of New York. The responses we received were overwhelming. Senator Collins’ staff members Jo Lea and Jill were extremely, if not the most, supportive. They not only showed a lot of interest in our organization as a whole, but also promised that they would make sure that the EFA bill got into Senator Collins’ hands. This was more than we had hoped for, and we’re really excited about furthering our relationship with Senator Collins! Sen. Mikulski’s legislative assistant also showed a lot of interest in the organization, and really impressed us with her knowledge of the situation as well. When we met with Senator Cardin’s legislative correspondent, she also showed interest in the bill, but said Senator Cardin has a lot of other priorities in foreign aid, specifically health issues. Still, she told us that Senator Cardin likes a lot of gender-equality related items, and this could be very promising. All in all, the meetings with these senators were a huge success! We are especially excited about how responsive Senator Collins was and the ongoing support from Senator Mikulski.
We’re so grateful to have opportunities like these. Global Action Week is always B-CC SGU’s favorite time of the year. We look forward to lobbying in the future!