While most students returned to a snow-covered campus last Tuesday, Jeffrey Kao ’19 was spending his day in Washington DC with Save the Children, a global non-governmental organization that advocates for children’s rights and provides relief for children across the world.
The organization has a political advocacy arm called the Save the Children Action Network, which hosted a three-day conference. Kao’s journey to the conference and partnership with the organization all began with his internship last summer, when Kao worked at the Hong Kong office of Save the Children.
According to Kao, his work during the internship motivated him to step further into supporting the organization and its cause.
Kao said, “[Save the Children] told me about how to continue to stay involved with them, and one such way was this advocacy summit in the U.S., which was over Spring Break. I applied because I thought it sounded pretty interesting and is a unique experience.”
“It sounds like Jeffrey was able to really take advantage of what [the organization] has to offer. I hope his meetings and connections with contemporary and game-changing politicians can go a long way. Perhaps he’ll be on the other side of those meetings someday,” said Louis Aaron ’18, a friend of Kao.
The three-day conference, officially known as the Advocacy Summit, consisted of student sessions and meetings with speakers and elected leaders. According to the Summit’s official website, its goal was to provide “a unique opportunity for our supporters to delve deeper into the issues, receive training from leading experts and act to ensure that matters critical to children’s lives and futures are prioritized by our elected leaders.”
All participants of the Summit were volunteers who previously had been involved with the Save the Children Action Network. The majority of the members were community volunteers, including adults and high school students like Kao.
One of the many high school students Kao met at the conference was Kishor Bharadwaj, an eleventh grader who currently attends Deerfield Academy. According to Kao, Bharadwaj was the trip leader for six other students from Deerfield Academy.
“Very few countries allow for a common person to make their mark on policy, so we are tremendously grateful for having the opportunity to participate in such an experience,” wrote Bharadwaj in an email to The Phillipian.
Save the Children was established right after World War One. Today, the organization holds its position as a well-known NGO charity establishment. Save the Children Action Network, the political arm of the organization, focuses specifically on political advocacy. The original foundation, in conjunction with the political arm, works on fundraisers and programs around the world to support children.
“The first two days we learned about their two main topics, which were childhood education in the U.S., and maternal and child survival abroad. We heard from pretty notable speakers about topics like that. We listened and watched panels,” said Kao.
According to Kao, the third day was the highlight of the conference. Known as “Hill Day,” the day was a chance for all volunteers to visit Capitol Hill and interact with real-life politicians. Around 200 to 300 people attended the event, according to Kao, and they were arranged into meetings with various congressmen or their staff. Kao met the staff of Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, and Massachusetts Representative Joe Kennedy.
In meetings with the politicians, volunteers explained important issues of the world regarding children’s rights and shared their own goals.
Kao said, “I think [the day is] pretty unique. Very few people have the privilege to be able to visit congressmen or at least their staff and their offices and tell them, and kind of help give them a direction. So, I think this is a way our democracy works.”
Kao continued, “If [politicians] don’t choose to listen to us, then they might not get votes, and that sort of shows the balance of power. It was really unique to be able to meet the congressman and listen to what they have to say. Some of the discussions were limited just on the topic that we want to talk about, since there wasn’t much time. They gave us answers and explanations to our proposal. Some of the staff members were super nice. They are relatively young, so they are willing to share their experience with us. They gave advice based on the path they took in life.”
Through the experience, Kao aims to send a message to his fellow students that any political goal can be achieved if one finds a way.
“At times, we may seem just seem like students or teenagers, but I think there is really a big movement surrounding youth, making sure their voices are heard, really contributing momentum behind different movements. My message would be that if there is anything that anyone feels passionate about, know that you can make a difference. You just have to go out there and figure out how,” said Kao.