Blog:

CRS Rice Bowl Inspires Students during Lent

By: Marissa Roberto, CRS Student Ambassador at Cabrini University and CRS Intern in the Northeast / Mid-Atlantic Regional Office

Each year, members of the Catholic Relief Services community travel around the nation to speak about the work they do in their respective countries and how the different programs of CRS work with their communities. This year, Cecilia Suarez, Head of Office for Catholic Relief Services Mexico, was the guest speaker for the CRS Rice Bowl Encounter Tour in the Northeast Mid-Atlantic Region.

Suarez has been the Head of Office in Mexico for four years. In this role, she consults with and serves the communities of Mexico. CRS has been supporting Mexican partners and programs there for 75 years.

Even before working at CRS, Suarez has always had the vulnerable in her heart. She wanted to be a missionary at a young age but her parents told her to go to university instead. She felt that she was a very lucky young woman to have the opportunity to study and that she had a family who supported her education. After graduating, she jumped into mission work.

“I used to work for the Jesuit Migrant Service. That is when I met CRS,” Suarez said. “I liked the way they [CRS] worked, supporting us. A Head of Office position [in Mexico] opened and I applied. I was lucky to get the job.”

Suarez had the chance to visit with elementary and high school students, as well as sit and discuss topics of migration, peace building, education, finding justice for workers and creating microfinancing programs.

Through speaking with students and members of different communities on the speaker tour, Suarez focused on discussing the poverty issues Mexico is facing.

“Children from rural communities frequently are forced to work from 10 years old on,” Suarez said. “They make five to six dollars a day after working 16 hours.”

Not only are wages low for temporary farmworkers but the lands that farmers use are eroded, and in some areas of Mexico, people are experiencing droughts. This is yet another setback to those who are trying to make a steady living.

After learning the struggles of the people of Mexico, Suarez decided that by using CRS’ resources, she was able to help find better opportunities for farmers and others in rural communities. One such resource is CRS’ Savings and Internal Lending Communities (SILC). This program strengthens community-based savings groups and the field agents that assist with the projects. Her team is working on ways to help farmers gain more access to markets in which to sell their crops. 

“They are really happy and proud to be entrepreneurs.” Suarez said.

Through the SILC groups, farmers learn how they can form their own community banks with the local community members in control of the finances.

“The [SILC process] is making a huge difference for them because they are learning that they can have some income, manage that income, make some earning and then invest in their own business. These small projects are changing the lives of these families,” Suarez said.

Suarez also shares how CRS Rice Bowl is very beneficial to CRS programs in Mexico.  CRS Rice Bowl is a Lenten program through which communities can “put their faith into action” by learning about people's lives around the world and setting aside small donations to help fund CRS humanitarian response and development programs.

“CRS Rice bowl is an opportunity to build bridges between communities in Mexico and the communities [in the United States], and I think it is a fantastic way of putting the people together to build hope between the two countries,” Suarez said. “I think this is an opportunity to actually change a little bit of the way we can grow our neighborhood relationship.”

Suarez encouraged all of her listeners to educate themselves on global issues and CRS work around the world, and then to offer support via various advocacy initiatives.

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After listening to Suarez, Cabrini University CRS Student Ambassadors were ready to take action.

Cabrini students feel that educating ourselves and the people around us about people's lives in Mexico, Central America, and other parts of the world is not only beneficial to us but to our global community. We have put together small group activities to raise awareness on economic justice issues, climate change, and migration. We have also participated in CRS Rice Bowl this Lenten season following Cecilia’s visit.

Where do you start?  To get involved, first, increase your awareness. Educate yourself. Educate others around you. Have a simple conversation with a family member, friend, colleague or stranger. Being an influencer and engaging in dialogue is a strong starting point. Researching and understanding what is happening in other countries is key. You can use the resources on CRS Rice Bowl’s page to find other stories of hope from around the world.

In your CRS meetings, carry on this conversation and take action by taking part in CRS Rice Bowl, writing letters to Congress and creating events that bring your campus together.

For more information on Cecilia Suarez and ways to get involved in CRS Rice bowl check out the link below:

Cecilia Suarez: http://www.crsricebowl.org/speakers/mexico