Originally from Guadalajara, México, Pamela Jiménez Cárdenas is currently a junior studying Government at Harvard. She is the youngest of two children and was born shortly after a severe car accident left both of her parents confined to bed rest and completely dependent on the help of friends and family to recover. This experience, combined with a family tradition rooted in Jesuit education and in the idea of “men and women for others,” instilled in her from a young age the notion that we are all responsible for serving others and giving back.
Pamela’s family immigrated to San José, California in 2000 to seek better opportunities. Being an immigrant from a country plagued with many social problems, she has always been interested in world affairs, especially international aid and development issues. Pamela’s community work has led her to an understanding of the importance of acting locally.
While in San Jose, Pamela completed her Girl Scouts Silver Award working to deliver aid to indigenous Mexican immigrants in Watsonville, California. She went on to attend Presentation High School where, honoring the school’s motto, “Not words but deeds,” she served as an officer of the Community Involvement Club. In that capacity, she worked to organize Rural and Urban Plunges and other immersion activities and school charity drives. It was there that she first came in contact with the homeless community and was struck by how easy it is for someone to become homeless.
Pamela also acted as a youth leader in the Global Citizen Corps. Through this group, she worked to raise awareness about issues relating to global poverty such as hunger, HIV/AIDS, climate change, and education. She became passionate about global access to schooling and lobbied Congress twice on behalf of the Education for All Act as part of the Global Campaign for Education.
Pamela’s advocacy efforts were recognized when she shared the American Latino Media Art (ALMA) Humanitarian Award with Shakira. The ALMA Awards is an annual event presented by the National Council of La Raza, the largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the US, which recognizes outstanding achievement of Latinos in the arts, and honors those who promote positive portrayals of Latinos in the entertainment field.
At Harvard, Pamela has continued to develop her interest in international development through her coursework and her extracurricular activities. She has spent her summers working abroad: first as an HIV counselor in Johannesburg, South Africa with the Aurum Institute evaluating the number of individuals who sought treatment after being diagnosed HIV+. Pamela was disappointed by staggering denial and shame that prevented people from seeking help, but she was also inspired by the role of education in motivating the younger generation to change their perceptions of the disease. Later, in Tbilisi, Georgia, Pamela worked with the Free University and other Harvard students to organize a leadership camp taught by Harvard affiliates that brought together students from Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and even Indonesia, Moldova, and the United States. Pamela spent this past January implementing intermediate lighting technologies in favelas near Sao Paulo, Brazil as part of MIT’s D-Lab program. These experiences have heightened her interest in policy as a necessary element in global change.
In addition to her international interests, Pamela remains committed to acting locally and has volunteered at the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter since her first year as a Street Team member. The Street Team is the outreach arm of the shelter that works to connect with unsheltered homeless individuals in Harvard Square. Members are trained to help individuals identify available resources. They also distribute food, blankets, and other basic amenities. Often, their greatest asset is their conversation and willingness to engage with those who most people ignore.
Pamela is passionate about education and women’s issues and plans to return to work on policy issues in Brazil this summer. She hopes to do field work after graduation, before pursuing a graduate degree in international policy.