Originally from the Los Angeles Area, Karina Castro is a MIMS 2018 graduate who currently works as a Program Assistant at KIND Inc., Kids in Need of Defense. Karina’s research focused on a thesis on the response of direct service providers to Haitian Refugees at the Tijuana border. She was able to go to Rome with other MIMS students with USF’s Master in Non-Profit Administration program.
I had never been to Rome before nor did I ever imagine I would have the opportunity to experience a city I had only read about in history books when learning about the Roman Empire. It is a rich city with history in its buildings and piazzas and in the little details as you walk through the narrow cobblestone streets. After a 13 hour direct flight from Los Angeles to Rome, Italy I arrived at the Roma Termini Train Station. It is the main hub to reach many cities throughout Rome. It is very busy and people pass you by in a flash as everyone carries on to find their way.
During this journey I had the opportunity to learn about the work different organizations are doing to help all refugees including those crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Various organizations we met with include: Jesuit Refugee Services, Caritas Roma, Save the Children, Centro Astalli, Medecins San Frontieres. Through different services, all these organizations address the needs of refugees, whether it is in the form of rescue missions, education, health or access to a daily meal and shelter. Something interesting I learned from this experience is how most of the organizations are seen in a negative light because society does not want to accept refugees or migrants into Italy. It was also important to note how Pope Francis reaffirms the work of these organizations and gives them the strength to continue to do the work they are doing since he is very influential and speaks in a positive light of helping migrants and refugees. Part of being able to sit at the general hearing given by Pope Francis is to acknowledge the role of the Catholic Church in having this mission of helping others with a humanitarian vision.
The most inspiring moment was hearing a testimony of an amazing woman from Cameroon. She talked about her experience with domestic violence in her home country, fleeing to Nigeria before taking a plane to Italy. My takeaway from her testimony was that she is the richest person in the world not because she has materialistic wealth but because she is happy. She has started her own non-profit to help girls in Cameroon. She is very grateful to Centro Astalli because the organization not only provided her with shelter and food, but also gave her the opportunity to take Italian classes and is allowing for her to continue developing her hospitality management skills. It is also important to note every migrant or refugee story is different and the power lies in understanding the story of the other without judgement.
This program relates to my thesis project in the aspect of integration of refugees. Sometimes as a migration scholar it is easy to focus on the journey of the migrant or refugee and forget to stop and analyze what happens post arrival and the struggle of integrating into a new society with a foreign language, different customs and traditions. Integration is a challenge and as daughter of Central American immigrants in the United States, I can say I am not sure my parents fully integrated into the American society or what a successful integration or complete integration really entails. I know the goal is to be able to simply live a life with dignity which was not provided in the country of origin.
Overall, going to Rome provided me with the opportunity to understand more in depth the migration refugee crisis in Italy and it made it more intimate to be in the country and be able to make observations than to read a figure in a textbook. Unfortunately, during the first two weeks in January over 250 people died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. I am sure the figures have risen by now, but being there and hearing the statistic made it more personal knowing how close I was to the location and without the possibility of doing anything to help. Sometimes part of the experience as a migration scholar that I have come to peace with is I cannot carry out into actions everything I wish I could do to change a situation but that I can accompany someone in a moment of their journey by listening and being actively present and engaged. I find the goodness in each instance as a fuel to continue to concentrate in my studies and hope one day policies can be changed and everyone is provided with the same dignity to life which we all deserve.