Victoria Los of St. Peter's parish in Saratoga Springs gave a speech in September in the United Nations Chapel in New York City about applying religious principles to local-level and global refugee-assistance efforts.

A double-major in English and religious studies at St. Michael's College in Colchester, Vt., Victoria plans to finish her degree in three years. She had been active in youth ministry at St. Peter's parish and attended the Albany Diocese's Christian Leadership Institute for teens.

Victoria said her religious studies internship this semester with the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants/The Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program has revealed a career path and new passion. She aspires to work for a non-profit after graduation.

The biggest reward of her internship, she said, revolves around friendships with the refugee community, including nearly 25 Vermont young people ages 15 to 25 who joined her September trip to New York City for the International Day of Peace Youth Conference.

"As incredible as it was being invited to speak and draw on my studies and experiences with some U.N. members present in the chapel to hear, the most memorable part for me was going through all of this excitement with the refugee youth community in Vermont," Victoria said. "It's so eye-opening to listen to them so casually discuss the things they went through in their home countries - Congo, Somalia, Iraq, Tanzania, Nepal and more: the countless years in a refugee camp, how they lost parents or other family members and the struggles they still are going through now in Vermont, like working to learn English or repeating grades in school that they passed in their home countries."

What sets these young refugees apart from her non-refugee peers is "their compassion, optimism and gratitude," Victoria said. Interacting with them has taught her that a purposeful intermingling of cultures is "what is going to make this world a better place."

The U.N.-supported UNITE group brings together Vermont high school student leaders from refugee groups for conversation. Victoria and some of those leaders joined in attending sessions during their New York visit, meeting U.N. representatives from the U.S. and India before Victoria's short speech on "Religion and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals." Other students from her group told their refugee stories.

Victoria said in her speech that 84 percent of the world's population claims to be religious, "but many do not apply the very doctrines that we preach to their own daily lives. If individuals began to do so, we would be much closer to accomplishing our goals. This is why organizations such as UNITE Vermont are imperative to solving social issues addressed by the United Nations Sustainable Development goals. Since Vermont is one of the least culturally-diverse states in the nation, UNITE creates a safe environment for the sharing and mixing of ideas of culture and religion."

In addition to the speech, Victoria said, "we were able to sit in on the U.N. conference in the New York headquarters for International Day of Peace. I got to listen to Jane Goodall speak, as well as many other U.N. members.

"I really wish a lot of kids my age understood the gratitude and compassion that these cultures emphasize," Victoria said of the students on the trip. "Yet this is the group of people so many of Americans don't want in our country. It made me realize how important the work is of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, not only for the sake of those fleeing their own countries, but for our own benefit as well."

She said she feels "grateful and blessed that I am able to work with such an amazing group of people, and I really can't wait to see where this work takes me."

(This article is reprinted with permission from the website of St. Michael's College in Colchester, Vt.)