Humanitarian at Heart
Karina Fuentes ’18
Political Science Major Aims to Support Local Migrant & Refugee Youth
We know what we read in the news, but few of us can fully grasp the difficulties a migrant or refugee family must face when adjusting to a new life in the United States. The challenges can be especially great for the children, and that’s what drew senior political science major Karina Fuentes to her internship position.
Fuentes’ interest in the struggles facing immigrant children was initially sparked by a special topic course, “Refugee Crisis,” she took last spring with Dr. Khristina Haddad. That’s when Fuentes met and heard the stories of people who help refugees in the area through various non-profit organizations, and began to gain perspective on these members of our community.
“I could understand the issue of how refugees arrive and what my community is doing to help them today,” says the Bethlehem native. “The connections I could make gave me a deeper passion in furthering my studies in non-profit work.”
It’s why Fuentes chose to pursue a summer internship with the Pennsylvania Migrant Education Program, and then return last fall to gain further knowledge of the support offered to local migrant families.
“I chose to assist in this program to get hands-on experience on how it is to assist migratory children. I was also interested in the connection they have with the Department of Education and with schools in the Lehigh Valley,” Fuentes says.
“The connections I could make gave me a deeper passion in furthering my studies in non-profit work.” –Karina Fuentes ’18
Shadowing one of the Program’s Student Support Specialists, Fuentes helped to organize and promote family workshops where she translated (English to Spanish) and created activities for the children aged pre-k to high school.
It was inspiring, Fuentes says, to witness the time the Specialist devoted to the migratory high school students she looked after, and the passion she exuded for her work. And while this support mainly focused on education, it invariably led to other resources the students and their families needed as they adjusted to life in the Lehigh Valley.
“I was impressed by how much help these migratory children receive, mostly refugees, and how it is all free,” Fuentes says.
Her experience with our state’s Migrant Education Program has actually reshaped the career plans Fuentes once had to work for the US Embassy. Instead, her focus has now shifted to non-profit humanitarian work, supporting migrant children or youth in general. “I plan to educate myself more on the issues of how a non-profit organization functions and how it even starts,” Fuentes says.
Fuentes knows that she has lots of options to consider. She could envision working within the Department of Education or continuing her non-profit studies by applying to Lehigh University’s Community Fellows Program. “Regardless, I plan to deepen my passion in humanitarian work and assist in any organization that aims to help my community,” she says.