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Compassionate dynamic: SCHC sophomore helped refugees settle in Spain

By Ella Bock


Typical college students spend their summers at home working or interning and enjoying their time off school, but Eleanor Mooney’s summer of 2016 was nothing like that. The Honors international studies sophomore worked as an intern technician with the Spanish Commission Center for Refugee Aid (CEAR) in Sevilla, Spain.

By the end of her two months with CEAR, Mooney knew she had spent her summer the right way. On her last day, one of the refugees hugged her with tears in his eyes, expressing gratitude for how much she had helped his family. “It was incredible to hear directly from someone how much of an impact I had had on their life in such a short time,” she said.

Mooney’s responsibilities centered on providing humanitarian aid to refugees entering Spain. Regular tasks included giving the refugees an allowance and making sure they spent it on essential items, checking in on them at their residences, and keeping track of their mental and physical health. Unexpected incidents and immediate needs, such as having to take a refugee to the hospital, and having to adjust to changes in Spain’s immigration policy, frequently presented her with new, and sometimes difficult, responsibilities.

“While working with the refugees, you would develop close relationships and understand how they were really trying, in the best way they knew how, to cope with their circumstances,” she explained. “This made it extremely difficult when legislation or other regulations would limit how much help we could provide them ... because we understood how much this action would directly impact their lives.”

Mooney said the Dublin Agreement was the most notable piece of legislation that affected CEAR while she was in Sevilla. Under the agreement, refugees have to seek asylum in the area in which they first entered Europe. This meant some of the families Mooney worked with had to be removed from Sevilla and sent back to their original entry point.

During her time with CEAR, Mooney worked with about 75 families, most of whom did not speak Spanish, but rather a dialect of Arabic. Although CEAR volunteers have access to translators, the families are required to take Spanish classes.

For her part, Mooney is almost fluent in Spanish, having participated in a K-12 Spanish immersion program in her hometown of Lexington, Ky. She’s also traveled extensively in Europe. Landing the internship with CEAR allowed her to combine her language skills with her love for the culture.

“I really just lucked out that I was accepted into an organization with such an amazing international and compassionate dynamic,” she said. “It beyond exceeded all my expectations.”

Founded in 1979, CEAR defends and promotes the right to asylum in Spain. It works with refugees, immigrants in need of international protection, and those at risk of social exclusion because of race, origin, refugee status, and other reasons. Refugees with whom CEAR works often are fleeing from war and persecution in their home countries. Many of them come from Morocco, Pakistan, Iran, and Ukraine, and are likely to be stigmatized for race or religion upon entering Spain.

Mooney applied for the internship through Spanish Study Abroad, (SSA), a program that offers course and internship placements in cities around the world. She submitted her resume in Spanish to SSA along with essays, a description of the type of internship she wanted and why she wanted to work in Spain. SSA then sent her resume to CEAR. While in Sevilla, she stayed with a host family and was provided meals for the duration of her internship.

“Prior to working with CEAR, I didn’t know exactly what career I wanted to pursue, only that it needed to be humanitarian driven,” she said.

The internship dramatically affected her career ambitions. After graduating, Mooney wants to continue working with refugees in either the resettlement phase or in the field, which would involve working in actual conflict areas.

“I think the biggest impact working with CEAR had was viewing how diverse and vibrant the world is,” she reflected, “and how, despite all our incredible and awesome differences, everyone is really searching for some of the same basic securities—family, friends, support, and food.”


Ella Bock is an Honors College sophomore, majoring in journalism.