Student Story

Kimberly Calle '23 Provides Humanitarian Aid Services to Asylum Seekers on US Border

Tell us about your experience as a Kotzen Scholar.

I will never forget the day I received the Kotzen Scholarship: I was on my way to work a 5 pm shift as a busser. I had been checking my email all day and had resolved that since it was already the evening, I would receive an email of denial. When I realized I was selected, I instantly burst into tears of joy. I called my mom and dad, and my mom started crying too.

It’s difficult to summarize into words what it means for me to have the Kotzen Scholarship. Yes, it means that I don’t have to pay for college, but it’s more than that. It means I can focus entirely on excelling in school and not have to juggle one or more jobs. It means I won’t graduate with student loans, and I can pursue more advanced degrees. Essentially, the scholarship means freedom to me. I am so grateful for all the opportunities it has allowed me to have.

Tell us about your service project on the US border.

I designed an independent service project to take place over spring break. I volunteered at Casa Alitas, an organization in Tucson, AZ, that provides temporary humanitarian aid services to asylum seekers. I chose to volunteer at this location because I’m very passionate about immigration, as my family is comprised of immigrants. Since I mentioned I was a nursing student, I spent most of my time in the medical center with the four doctors and two medical students that rotated the days.

Although I had limited medical knowledge (yet plentiful self-doubt), the doctors were very welcoming and encouraging. They even allowed me to function as a translator for them on intake days, as I am fluent in Spanish. One of the days, I helped sort clothing. Don’t let that sentence fool you: sorting clothing is one of the most challenging tasks to work on, and I say “work on” because I’m not sure it’s possible to accomplish.

I’ll conclude with one of my most important tasks: listening. A majority of the volunteers at Casa Alitas were older and retired persons who wanted to make a difference. I found it inspiring that they use their time to give back to their community and humanity. All of them had their own stories to share, from the retired doctor that graduated from Harvard Medical School and still had his physician bag from graduation, to Nancy, who managed the clothing donations, to the asylum seekers themselves.

Nancy ended up introducing me to Dora Rodriguez, an immigrant from El Salvador, who almost died trying to make it to the US at 19 years old, another story I was privileged enough to hear. Usually, I try to keep to myself, especially if I am unfamiliar with my surroundings. Though it was the first time I traveled alone, I wanted to make the most out of my experience and decided to push my comfort zone and engage in conversation with nearly everyone I met. All in all, I am eternally grateful to have had this experience, one that wouldn't have crossed my mind without the Kotzen Scholarship.

I found it most rewarding to be able to provide a sense of familiarity and comfort
to the asylum seekers.

What did you learn from this experience?

The lessons are endless. I learned the value of traveling alone, as being alone with your thoughts is optimal for reflection on values and aspirations. I learned how damaging the Trump Administration’s immigration policies were, in addition to learning about the injustices committed on the southern border as a result of these policies.

"No human being is illegal." Elie Wiesel quote
A quote that speaks to Calle's motivation for volunteering at the border.

I met a 20-year-old pregnant woman from Cuba who had applied for asylum with her husband, both of whom had been granted entry into the US. However, a miscommunication in the handoff from border patrol to ICE officials left the woman’s husband in a maximum-security prison, with little explanation given to her. As we listened to her 36-week-fetus’ heartbeat incongruence to her crying, I truly felt the meaning of the word injustice.

Finally, I was allowed the opportunity to reflect on my future goals. I learned that I want to work with underprivileged populations as a nurse and want to get involved in politics to push for healthcare and immigration policy changes.

What did you find most rewarding about this experience?

I found it most rewarding to be able to provide a sense of familiarity and comfort to the asylum seekers. Upon hearing my Spanish, we were able to establish a connection, in addition to bonding over the hilarity of my attempts to describe specific medical conditions I didn’t know how to translate.

How are Simmons and the Kotzen Scholarship preparing you for the future?

Simmons is preparing me for a very successful future. Not only am I gaining nursing knowledge through experiences at the best hospitals in the country, if not the world, but it has also refined several of my perspectives. In my courses, we’ve discussed consent, LGBTQIA+ topics, and feminism — all of which have broadened my perspectives. I’m now a more conscientious and aware individual both in and out of the classroom.

My experience as a Kotzen Scholar is preparing me to have the ability to go to graduate school, in addition to having supplemented my newfound interests in healthcare and immigration politics. Thanks to the independent project I funded through my scholarship, I know that I eventually want to make my way into the political sphere, which I would have remained unsure about otherwise.

Do you have a favorite Simmons memory?

My favorite Simmons memory would have to be watching the Super Bowl halftime show in the 3rd-floor lounge of Simmons Hall with all of my friends and floormates. As my friends and I shared a pint of ice cream, I noticed my absolute favorite artist in the whole world join in the show as a surprise performance. I literally could not help my scream as Bad Bunny made his appearance on stage! Although I was embarrassed, it was laughed off by those in the room, and we enjoyed the rest of the show, cheering on JLo and Shakira’s epic performance.

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