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Personal Stories

Rebeca Moreno Jimenez, MPA '15

I cannot even begin to describe the many different ways my experience in SIPA has changed my personal and professional life. I was born in the south border of Mexico, but I was raised in the northern border - the border of Mexico and U.S., in a small town called Ensenada. I know migration and poverty, because I grew up with it.

During 1994 “Tequila Crisis” my family lost it all, including our home. Our USD-bound home mortgage became unbearable given the Mexican peso devaluation. My family and I lived for many years in deep urban poverty conditions, with barely enough money to make it through the week and eating the same food sometimes for many consecutive days. Since Ensenada is usually very cold during winters and my parents did not have enough money to pay for gas/electricity for heating, we used to put newspapers on the windows. This helped us to keep a warm temperature inside the small 2-bedroom apartment that my uncle borrowed us after we lost our home. I live there for almost 17 years.

The first time I stepped into Za’atari refugee camp near Syria-Jordan border, I saw the same newspapers on the windows in the 1-bedroom shelter housing units. This was January 2015 and Za’atari was covered in a white thin layer of snow. I was part of the SIPA EPD Workshop 15’ team assessing World Food Programme (WFP) budget shortfall and its effects on both refugees and host communities. Some refugees were cut almost 50% their food income and its socio-economic effects were appalling: eating the same food on consecutive times, skipping meals, switching expensive ingredients - such as olive oil for cheap ones like vegetable oil -  and sometimes coping mechanisms like taking children out of school for begging. When I saw the newspapers on the windows I, somehow, understood the feeling of losing your home and lacking food in a cold winter. Then, I remembered the statistic: the average length of a person living in forced displacement is approximately 17 years.

This workshop at SIPA, two particular classes: applied peacebuilding with a summer experience in Uganda and managing humanitarian emergencies, plus taking part of the Tech & Policy initiative by participating in the Dean’s Public Policy challenge grant, created a full revolution in my thinking. In the lapse of the two-year SIPA experience, I switched my career completely. I decided to focus my life mission to support and create technology-led solutions for preventing conflict, sustaining peace and helping the most vulnerable people around the world.

I joined the United Nations High-Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Innovation unit in June 2015. Our team’s role is to be a service to the organization and boost impact by amplifying, connecting and exploring innovative solutions to alleviate suffering and help those people who are forced to flee home. We use technology and digital platforms to improve service delivery to affected communities. We help the many different UNHCR teams around the world and forced displaced persons to create their own ideas and implement them. At the end, they are the true innovators, overcoming hardship with creativity. We just create the structure to lift it.  

Working for the UN Refugee Agency has been a privilege and an enormous professional opportunity that I wouldn’t have achieved if it was not thanks to SIPA. SIPA provided with the relevant tools to think forward of futures that do not exist yet and how to design innovative solutions for those futures. After visiting now numerous refugee settings in different countries and talked with many young women and girls who have suffered the worst experiences when fleeing home, I cannot help but wonder if one of those girls living in poverty and forced displacement conditions can attend SIPA at some point of their lives in the future. My fuel at work and in life, is thinking that we are helping them to do so.


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