Dina Alsaffar and Kiran Waqar met with Senator Bernie Sanders at the RESULTS International Conference in July to build support for the most effective solutions to poverty.

It’s About the Results: Alsaffar and Waqar Meet with Congress on Capitol Hill

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Thursday August 10, 2017

What happens when ordinary people, not paid lobbyists, visit Capitol Hill to advocate for change? And what if those people happen to be two young women, one in high school and the other in college, who during their summer break, travel to Washington, D.C. to ask members of Congress to protect and strengthen critical anti-poverty programs that help millions of families make ends meet in the United States? Well, only Dina Alsaffar and Kiran Waqar can speak to those questions directly as the two recently returned from the United States capital where they were part of the RESULTS International Conference, July 22 to 25. There they heard directly from leading experts on issues related to poverty and inequality and advocated for the Global Partnership for Education and the Reach Every Mother and Child Act.

Waqar, a senior this coming fall at South Burlington High School, is passionate about her involvement with RESULTS, a nonprofit, grassroots advocacy organization which pushes for specific policies and legislation to address poverty. “Personally, being a first generation immigrant from Pakistan I’ve seen poverty with my own eyes. Working with severely economically disadvantaged students in Lahore, Pakistan, I know the effects of poverty, but more than that, I know we need to do everything we can to end it. Poverty affects all parts of life and the eradication of it not only impacts the individual, but also the entire nation, as well as our own national security.”

A Saint Michael’s College sophomore majoring in anthropology and sociology, Alsaffar describes the international conference as life changing. She credits Waqar for her involvement. “Overall, there wasn’t a single day that I didn’t feel empowered to learn more and do more. I’m so grateful Kiran informed me of this movement, because if it wasn’t for her, I’d still be thinking that I’d have no power to make a change. RESULTS creates a movement in which individuals can have their voices heard, even if they’re not allowed to vote yet.”

According to RESULTS, Waqar founded the organization’s delegation in the Burlington area. They note, “Kiran’s work is that of a young leader.” Once in D.C., Waqar was selected to open the conference with a welcome speech and to introduce the keynote speaker, Joanne Carter, executive director of RESULTS. Waqar says, “Being the youngest group leader in the country and one of the youngest participants, I was terrified to be speaking in front of a such an accomplished audience, but they couldn’t have made it easier! The energy and enthusiasm in the audience was electrifying.”

Waqar, who also performs as part of the well-known slam poetry group Muslim Girls Making Change, is passionate about the RESULTS cause and citizens’ ability to make a difference. “While at the conference, we had the opportunity to learn from leaders like Dr. Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, and Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, founder and chairman of BRAC, swap stories with activists from all 50 states and over 20 countries, and advocate on Capitol Hill with the offices of Senator Leahy, Senator Sanders, and Representative Welch. In addition, Dina and I had the opportunity to join and advise the Faith Cohort. There, we discussed how to engage faith communities, but also how to engage all generations, including 17-year-old high school students.”

Alsaffar reports, “RESULTS gave me the opportunity to experience what it really feels like to make a difference. Every day we had inspiring key note speakers, informative workshops, and above all, an encouraging group of individuals attending for the same purpose: to end poverty.” She said a common refrain heard throughout the conference was, “It’s not about us, it’s about the results,” a phrase Alsaffar said stressed the point that they are not paid lobbyists or individuals gaining anything for personal benefit. “We’re constituents volunteering for a purpose well beyond our own gains. It is people like us who senators and their amazing staff want to hear from; we’re ordinary citizens concerned about the future of our world and we’re working harder than ever to make a change.”

The RESULTS conference was also instructional, teaching participants about all aspects of poverty, including education, nutrition, health, and racial inequities. Alsaffar reports it also taught her how to speak to her representatives and their staff. “Kiran and I practiced all day and night in preparation for lobbying day, where we were able to speak with congressional staff about matters such as the Global Partnership for Education as well as the Reach Every Mother and Child Act.”

Waqar says of the conference, “The passion every single person had for ending poverty was incredible. It was a place of learning and taking that knowledge to enact change. I’m so excited to continue my work in Vermont and am excited to see our chapter grow!”

“This has been such an incredible experience and I’m blessed to have been a part of this movement,” says Alsaffar, adding a recurring refrain as a grace note, “Upon my return, I hope to advocate more individuals to join and get involved, because, as we know, ‘It’s not about us, it’s about the results.’”