Ridgefield native lobbies for the impoverished, tuberculosis funding

From left to right: Olivia Gastaldo, Phyllis Behlen, Lucinda Winslow, Bill Baker, Margaux Amara, Sandra Eagle, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, Kerry Morgan, Evelyn Avoglia, Molly Higbie, Beata Fogarasi (Courtney staffer), and Nancy Gardiner. — Margaux Amara photo

Many recent college grads spend the summer after they graduate traveling out of a backpack, or embarking on the great American road trip.

Margaux Amara, 22, set her sights a little higher, traveling to Washington, D.C., in July to take part in the RESULTS conference, an advocacy boot camp that teaches young people how to lobby for increased funding to fight poverty.

“What drew me to it was that a girl from Ridgefield, Connecticut, can really affect policy that affects millions and millions of people,” Amara said

The conference involved learning about public policy from politicians like Joyce Banda, the former president of Malawi.

“She spoke quite a bit about maternal and child health, and how important it is to support women and young girls in poverty,” Amara said.

After a few days of learning the ins-and-outs of how to affect policy in D.C. — lessons included how to write a good letter to an editor and how to write to a representative in Congress, the group spent the last day meeting directly with members of congress.

“It was really awesome because on Lobby Day, we were in every single policymaker’s office on the Hill,” said Amara. “We actually met with all seven of our congressmen and senators, we met with all of their staff, and we were lucky to have a face to face with Representative Jim Himes.”

Rep. Rosa Delauro, a Democrat representing Connecticut’s 3rd District, gave Amara’s group of advocates some advice that stuck with her.

“Don’t stop talking,” she told them. “Don’t take no for an answer when it comes to ending poverty.”

Bustle and hustle

The nation’s capital can be an intimidating place.

“Capital Hill is exciting,” Amara said. “People are bustling around … there is a bit of nervousness when a legislator is sitting right there in a room and you have to speak to them. It can be a little intimidating.”

“It’s intimidating at first, but then you realize that you’re sitting across from people who want to do good, too.”

Poverty

On domestic issues, Amara said the group asked their lawmakers for bipartisan legislation protecting SNAP — Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or what used to be called food stamps. In June, the House passed a farm bill that would significantly reduce the number of people eligible to receive SNAP benefits.

Amara said her group also met with Himes, and had an in-depth discussion on the causes of the racial wealth-gap — including how the challenge of buying and owning a home can prevent some from rising out of poverty.

Some of Amara’s colleagues at the conference had their own experiences with poverty.

“A lot of these people said that ‘without these programs, I would not be able to eat, I would not have been able to go to school,’” she said.

‘You can save a lot of people’

The group also spoke with Himes and other lawmakers about a subject that Amara is well-versed in — funding for tuberculosis (TB) research and treatment abroad.

While developed countries like the United States rarely have to be concerned about tuberculosis, the same is not true for developed countries she pointed out. Last year, the government set aside around $261 million in funding for treating cases of TB internationally. This year, her group lobbied for $302 million.

“In that forty million dollars, you can save a lot of people,” Amara said.

A UConn graduate who majored in molecular and cell biology, she hopes to go into the medical field. She is currently headed to Liberia’s capital city, Monrovia, to work with the nonprofit Partners in Health on rebuilding the country’s healthcare program, and response to TB cases.

The nation, once a home for former slaves freed after the closing of the transatlantic slave trade, was crippled by a civil war in the 1990s, as well as widespread poverty and an outbreak of the ebola virus in 2014.

“TB is a disease of poverty and poverty alone,” Amara said.

Generation of activists

A 2014 graduate of Ridgefield High School, Amara attended Ridgebury Elementary School and Scotts Ridge Middle School.

While the past year has been almost defined by student activism, she acknowledged that the “wave of activism was after my time in high school.”

College put her in contact with the larger community of lobbyists and advocates.

She said the RESULTS conference taught her to meet with those in power face to face.

“We often think that our government — especially in these times — is unmovable,” Amara said. “RESULTS gave me the tools and experience … to go into our congresspeople offices, to policymakers’ offices and give them very specific asks … armed with the knowledge to talk to congressmen and their staff.”

Margaux Amara outside the Capitol in Washington.
Margaux Amara at the RESULTS conference in Washington.

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