Maternal and child healthcare. Access to potable water. Sanitation and hygiene. Climate change and sustainable agriculture. Nutrition. Micro finance clubs. Art and fair trade. Peacebuilding and conflict resolution. Mass migration. These are just some of the pressing issues being addressed by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and its community partners around the globe.

In the past year, three members of the Xavier community have participated in immersion programs with CRS, myself included. Traveling to places such as the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon, University Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry, Father Etido Jerome, S.S.J., met with Syrian refugees housed in shelters.

While forced exile brought the Syrians to Lebanon, it was Father Etido’s dedication to humanitarian causes coupled with the expansive reach of CRS that facilitated his being there. For Dr. L. Faye Grimsley, Associate Professor and Department Head of Public Health Sciences, it was her sustained work of over 25 years as a certified industrial hygienist (CIH). With her commitment to environmental justice, Dr. Grimsley traveled to Ghana during the summer break to learn of the public health challenges faced by community members and the responses currently being developed on the ground there. It was a host of intersecting factors, but primarily a commitment to social justice and the ongoing work in African American and Diaspora Studies (AADS), that put me on the path to traveling with CRS.

Though I’d traveled to Ghana several times over the last decade and half, my trip with CRS in summer 2015 was transformative and exhaustive. The above list of critical issues reflects most of those we studied during our time there. In each location and situation CRS partnered with other agencies, community members and their designated leaders/ representatives to responsibly assess situations and appropriate measures for addressing needs.

This week CRS representatives will be on campus to discuss its focus in different regions, how the concept of Integral Human Development (IHD) informs approaches to social justice, and the Faculty Learning Commons, an online collection of resources that enhances undergraduate instruction about critical issues. Lastly, though international efforts are highlighted here, the visit from CRS also presents a rich opportunity for Xavier to consider the work being done closer to home in our own respective communities.

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