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ASU undergrads advocate for international family planning on Capitol Hill

Arizona State University students at Capitol Hill Days
April 21, 2014

Earlier this month, a group of Arizona State University undergraduate students traveled to Washington, D.C., as part of Capitol Hill Days. Sponsored by Population Connection, the event brought together students to learn about and lobby for international family planning in our nation’s seat of political power.

Participants from across the country attended lectures and workshops led by public health workers, professional lobbyists and leaders of aid organizations. They then prepared presentations for their senators and representatives on pieces of legislation they wanted them to support. The event culminated in the students visiting and lobbying their legislators’ aides.

“Capitol Hill Days is a unique and important opportunity for activists as the largest advocacy conference of its kind,” explains Rebecca Harrington, Population Connection’s national field director. “We were delighted to have a vibrant, engaged group of ASU students join us for this year’s event, and to meet with Arizona Senators and Congressmen and women to advocate for greater access to reproductive health care for women around the globe.”

The ASU contingent represented a wide range of majors, from communications to biomedical engineering, but most are pursuing global health degrees in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Jose “Pete” Galvan, Lillia Mrza and Amran Ahmed are three of the 12 global health majors who attended.

Mrza says the event was one of the best experiences she has had since coming to ASU.

“It was amazing to know that I was finally making an impact as a global health student by advocating for women’s health rights and international family planning,” she says.

For Ahmed, Capitol Hill Days carried a deep meaning. “Personally, I benefited from this conference because I was born in Somalia, a country that overlooks the importance of sex education and preventive measures, such as family planning.”

Calling the experience “awesome,” Ahmed was particularly impressed by the opportunity to network with Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Ken Weiss and countless students from other universities.

Galvan, who is double majoring in global health and justice studies, found a lot of food for thought during his time in Washington, D.C. With an interest in health and all its aspects, from health care systems to international aid, he is particularly focused on minority health issues, women’s health and health legislation. Capitol Hill Days seemed custom made for him.

“Being able to learn about and represent the ideas behind global health – in D.C., much less – was a great experience,” he says. “It was exciting to discuss issues with aides from our various representatives’ offices, especially when they were able to offer perspectives on what the representatives were leaning toward and what the environment is like inside the Senate and the House.”

That insight opened Galvan’s eyes to the complexity of politics behind certain pieces of health legislation and the challenges that differing opinions can create. But, he says, it also illuminated the fact that the United States holds great power to influence domestic and international change, and that people from all walks of life can play a part in that change.