International Empowerment – Ep.72

Community Policing and Rebuilding Relationships – Ep.71
December 7, 2022
Improving Brain Health – Ep.73
December 22, 2022

Stephanie Fuentes shares her experiences interning for The United Nations and working on designing technology-focused development projects. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Welcome to the Jali Podcast. I’m your host, Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around diversity, inclusion, and equity. Each week, I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share or is actively part of building solutions in this space. Let’s get started.

All right. This week, we are so excited, as I always am, to meet someone that I think everybody’s going to be excited about. I have the honor of introducing Steph Fuentes and I am so excited to have you. So thank you for being on the Jali Podcast.

Stephanie Fuentes:  Thank you for having me. I’m really excited to be here as well.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes, and I am excited when I get to meet new people, which I have been getting to do a lot lately. So I wanted to maybe just start a little bit because everybody has their own story. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about yourself and how you ended up at the UN.

Stephanie Fuentes:  Yeah, well I mean it’s been a long journey. I’m from Southern California. I come from Mexican migrant parents. I’m the first in my family to go to any school after high school. I went community college for four years while I worked full-time. Finally transferred, I went away to the Bay Area, where I did two years at a public university in Sonoma, where I studied political scienc.e and that’s where I got into, I would call it a United Nations kind of like a nerdy group, where we participated in a mock sessions, and my love for international development group from there. And that led into a foray into local politics, which led into the Peace Corps. And that awoke my consciousness to how much I didn’t know about development work and the problematic of being a… Although women of color, coming from a western nation imposing stuff into local communities. Which then led into grad school to learn more about that. And now I’m an intern at the United Nations.

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s so awesome. So awesome. So tell me a little bit, because I know I do want to start with just some of the recruitment process because it’s not like people just wake up and then they can just get into the UN intern process. So how did you even find out about it, and how were you able to get into it?

Stephanie Fuentes:  Yeah. Like I said, I’ve kind of learned more about the United Nations when I was in undergrad. And even then, I knew there was a lot of barriers because while the UN is present in almost all nations and have local offices, there’s a lot of barriers for people of color, especially poor people, who have no connections into politics or diplomacy to get into that sort of stuff. So even when I was an untraditional student, because I was like 27 in my junior year of undergrad. Even then, I knew I had to lay the groundwork there to get to where I am now when I’m almost 32. So I got into Model United Nations. Try to network, make connections with people that were working in the New York offices. My professors were really well connected as well. They suggested, “Just work your way towards that. Think about grad school. Think about meeting people that will connect you to these positions,” because like you said, you don’t just apply, you have to know somebody to get beyond the application pool.

So from there I got involved in local politics where I met people that were in positions of power and who knew people who might be in positions where I wanted to be. And from then, because I didn’t have any diplomatic experiences, somebody had told me join the Peace Corps, which is a development organization, but not really because it’s a way for the US to enhance the diplomatic relationships with the global South. And through there, get experience, which I did in some ways. Like I said, I learned how much I didn’t know about the type of intentional work that goes into development and the type of work that the UN actually does.

And because I was getting all those experiences of I don’t know how to create sustainable projects, I don’t know how to involve communities, that led me to looking for grad schools. And the grad school that I’m at right now, Middlebury Institute of International Studies, is known as a school where you go if you want to get into the United Nations. Which is my goal, like I said, back when I was 26. And from then I’ve been very intentional about networking with the type of people that I want to work with. Especially people that are people of color, people that know the barriers that someway got their foot into the door, and are now opening that up for people like me.

And I networked with some alumni. I’ve met some wonderful Americans that are working at the UN Women. Some alumni that are in this group that we have is called Shades, which is the group for BIPOC alumni. And yeah, they’ve like opened the doors, they’ve told me their career fairs, I can get your resume in. So I’ve done like 20 informational interviews, got into career fairs, finally spoke with somebody that was like, “Yeah, we can get you into this US funded program at the UN because there’s also the barrier of UN internships not being paid.” So after all of that, I’m finally in here.

Melyssa Barrett:  Awesome.

Stephanie Fuentes:  As an intern. Yeah, it’s quite the journey. It’s a lot.

Melyssa Barrett:  So tell me a little bit about the UN. And I’m specifically, it’s interesting to me because I think when we were talking, you were saying how when you’re in the UN, it’s like America is almost in the minority.

Stephanie Fuentes:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  So can you talk about what do you do at the UN and then maybe talk a little… I mean I think I find it cool that they actually have their own ERGs for BIPOC employees and stuff. That’s pretty awesome.

Stephanie Fuentes:  Yeah, So the UN does a lot. It was created after World War II to prevent Masco Wars. But it’s evolved into an agency that does everything. They do work with women, they do work with children. Work in the areas of agriculture, health economy, peace building. The agency where I’m at, it’s called the International Atomic Energy Agency. And we work with nuclear. And the agency is both the nuclear watchdog of the world. So you hear about it now with the Ukraine and Russia, you hear about it with Iran. But we also do a lot of development work. The department that I am specifically, takes nuclear technology and science, and we apply it to development programs, helping cancer prevention with radiotherapy. We do modification to plants so that they’re more drought resistant. We help with monitoring plastic in the ocean and in rivers.

And at the agency, what I’ve learned within all the interns, there’s quite a bit of us, is that Americans are a little bit in a position of privilege because we’re underrepresented at the agency. Throughout all agencies, throughout the UN system, it seems that Americans don’t want to work in very diplomatic, bureaucratic agencies like the UN. Because one, they don’t pay that well. And two, it seems like there’s a lack of intercultural competency that we’re taught at the state level over there. So there’s not very desirable positions and they’re actually actively recruit Americans when they’re opening up positions in the UN. It’s a bit of a sour point because we’re seeing, as a western country that’s more developed, but then we’re also underrepresented and they want to give us jobs. So they see that as a bit of an unfairness. And we’re not the most well-liked in the UN. And [inaudible 00:09:30].

Melyssa Barrett:  So it is a different line to walk for sure. I think because everybody’s talking about recruiting and diversity, equity and inclusion. But it’s an interesting view sitting from the UN perspective, when you’re thinking about and myself anyway, as an American. Yeah, so interesting. So you were talking about some of the things that you’re doing with development of utilizing nuclear technology, I’ll say, for things like cancer and all of that. Which has to be pretty rewarding, especially as a woman of color that is kind of sitting in the seat at the UN, really kind of making sure people have the information to make change, not only for one country but potentially for many.

Stephanie Fuentes:  Yeah, I mean it’s been pretty interesting. I have the privilege of working in this specific region, which is Latin America and the Caribbean. And it’s such a diverse group of nations with plethora of different languages, and communities, and needs. And it’s been really great because the agency does do a good job of hiring people from these nations that know their communities well, and will advocate for them at the local level. And even though I am Latina, I don’t know intimately all of these communities because I have been raised in California. And even though I like to refer Southern California as Little Mexico, it really is not. It’s not. It’s very different.

Melyssa Barrett:  It used to be.

Stephanie Fuentes:  And in many ways, it still is.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Stephanie Fuentes:  But yeah, it’s been great. I’ve learned a lot. I mean I was one of those people that would hear nuclear, and thought of all the negative stuff. Thought of Hiroshima, and Fukushima, and thought that we don’t want nuclear. It’s radioactive, you get sick from it. And I’ve learned that it really does help, not only with energy needs, but cancer care. Or even getting your x-ray. If you break a leg or an arm, you get an x-ray done, that’s nuclear technology. And it’s mostly cost effective. The agency puts in a lot of the budget, and really does, from what I’ve seen, try to bring in country ownership of the solutions and live them with the technology that they can then develop on their own, and develop their nation as they see the need for. Which is great and refreshing.

Melyssa Barrett:  That is awesome. That’s awesome. So you said your path also went through the political space?

Stephanie Fuentes:  Yes, I did.

Melyssa Barrett:  What was that like?

Stephanie Fuentes:  It was a very short foray into local politics in the Bay Area. I did some campaign work, which is where we met our mutual friend, Serena.

Melyssa Barrett:  Shout out to Serena.

Stephanie Fuentes:  And it was great to see local politics in action, considering the state of the US politics now, this was before 2020, and a lot. But yeah, it was just trying to… I’ve always been fascinated by how organizations work, and how governments work, and why they are the way they are, and who’s involved in decision-making, who’s left out. So back then, I wanted to understand. Being in Sonoma County, where a lot of the farming is done by migrants, where a lot of the wealth is not given to migrants, it’s given to people that don’t look like us. So I wanted to get involved in grassroots movements. I wanted to see how we can get Latinos, and Black people, and Asian people involved to get more of a share in power and decision-making.

But I’d realized back then I was probably too young and too idealistic to really get more involved into it. I got disillusioned pretty fast. I really saw, not the ugly slide but the difficult choices and compromising that goes into politics. And I was like, “I’m not sure if this is for me.” I don’t know if I have the heart to get into that because I sometimes give too much, and then get burned out quickly. So it was in that space where I met somebody, they were like, “Maybe you should do the Peace Corps. Seems like something up your alley where you get to help communities. But from more of a grassroots, not sort of political red tape perspective.” Which was a lie, the second part. The first part was, you did get for your community, but there’s always red tape involved somehow.

Yeah it was great. It was a great look into how local politics work. I realized that if I were ever to go into politics, it would probably be at the city council level because there, it’s where politics is most accountable. Because usually it’s your neighbor, or your doctor, or your local educator running for office. So you know them, and you can hold them accountable, and it’s more transparent.

Melyssa Barrett:  So yeah, you definitely walk by and see them. And you can touch and feel those versus the ones in, even at the county or state level, sometimes you don’t always see them. Although in my district, we see ours quite a bit. But it’s difficult to feel like you’re truly connected if you can’t reach out and touch. So it’s challenging for sure. Do you think you’ll be in political office one day? So is city council in your future?

Stephanie Fuentes:  I’ve considered it. And people have told me, “You’d be really great.” But I don’t know if I’m the type of person that can compromise. If I [inaudible 00:16:18] something, we really need universal healthcare, we really need public transportation. I would fight until we get that, and I know that I would probably not make many friends going through that.

Melyssa Barrett:  Okay. So then shifting gears a little bit, because today, and it’s quite late out there right now, you’re in Vienna.

Stephanie Fuentes:  Yes. Yes, I’m in Vienna.

Melyssa Barrett:  And I know some of the things, I think, we talked about how they’re just… When we think about diversity, equity, and inclusion, some of the biases that we may have, for example, are when we see signs for pregnant parking. There’ll be a woman on the sign. Or there’ll be a woman changing diapers if it’s for a bathroom or whatever. A baby changing station or something like that. And I know in Vienna, things are a little bit different in terms of what you see. So can you talk a little bit about that? Because I think, it’s so interesting to me because you don’t… That’s why they call it unconscious bias. You don’t actually even realize you have some of the unconscious biases that you have.

Stephanie Fuentes:  Yeah. So keeping in line with childcare, and women, and child rearing, that was one of the unconscious biases that I also held until I came here and I realized, I always expect women to be the ones with children. Whenever I see children, I expect the mother to be behind that. And when I got here I realized, that that’s not the case here. I started seeing a lot of men with strollers, holding babies, going after babies. And I started realizing that I would see it equally with men and women, and it’d be like, hold on, what’s happening? I’d realized in myself, that I’d see a woman with a kid, didn’t think about it, “Okay, it’s woman with a kid.” But then I would see a man with their child and be like, “Okay that’s cool.” But then it started happening the 15th time, the 20th time, and I was like, “What is happening here?” This is kind of cool.

You see almost more men taking their kids to school than women in the morning. And I am still kind of amazed at that. Not to say that there aren’t dads that don’t take care of their kids back in the US. But we definitely see a lot more mothers taking their kids to school or it’s their role to make sure that they go to the doctor so that they’re going to whatever activity. Whereas here, found that there it’s more equal. It might have to do with the way that they’re giving parental leave here. It’s not maternal leave, it’s parental. And there’s not a lot of division of gendered roles here in terms of parenting, the way that I’ve seen it, anecdotally in the subway. It’s been pretty cool.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah, that is pretty cool. And I’ve never been to Vienna. So what other things are… I know we talked about just even the safety of it in terms of… And I think some of our conversation was even when you think about safety, why is it so safe there? And I think you were talking about a lot of potential reasons for that.

Stephanie Fuentes:  Yeah, so I think some of that conversation was that I’ve noticed that here, I don’t see as much policing or police officers as there’s back home. There is police stations in every district. But I’ve been here four months and I think I’ve seen police officers maybe four times. Crime rate is relatively low. But one of the things that I’ve done some light research on, and from speaking with people here, is that Vienna takes care of its people, it provides social services, it provides mental health services. It makes sure that there’s rent control. It makes sure that if people are hungry, that they’re fed. If they don’t have a home, that there’s home provided for them. And it’s not perfect.

But there is quite a low rate of crime. And because of that, I’m not sure what came first, chicken of the egg? If there’s low crime because there’s a lack of feeling policed or if there’s lack of police because there’s no need for a person to maybe commit a small crime of, I don’t know, stealing something, or if they’re going through mental health stuff, they’re having their needs met. And it feels quite safe to me not having that presence. Makes me feel a little bit safer. I don’t know if it’s just my bias as a person of color. But yeah, it’s making me wonder, does providing social services like mental health, and making sure that people are housed, and fed, and warm lower crime and thus, prevent the need from having an overly policed stage? And it’s made me want to research that more and wonder if that model can replicate it in places like the US, where we do have an over-policed presence in our communities.

Melyssa Barrett:  And what’s interesting to me is your work at the UN because as you think about getting to know the community, you start really realizing all of the things that intersect. And potentially why things exist the way they do. And then you start questioning, especially now I think, you start questioning, why is it that way, and why does it have to be that way? And can we change it to something else? What else is out there? And I think it used to be that you could kind of pull together politicians to come to the center and figure out, “Hey, maybe this could work.” But I know in the US things have been so divisive that you don’t see that kind of connection like we used to.

Stephanie Fuentes:  It’s really been polarized. And to me, it always goes back to where our country started. There’s this, I guess, this argument I hear, at least. I always get told here that Americans bring race into everything. And my argument is, “You guys started with the race when you started colonizing.” But they always say it’s about class. And from my understanding, as you know, the argument of separating indigenous Black and White, poor Whites was let’s make it about they’re taking your stuff. And which I think it’s what’s happening now. Migrants come to take our jobs, other people are too overline on the system, and what’s left for the poor White person? And that’s when they sink their claw and make propaganda towards that.

And I think it’s really sad that in the US, and not that it’s not happening here, but that in the US, we can’t compromise or come together on issues because we have that scarcity mindset that if I don’t have it, they have it. Where it really is a percentage of people hoarding all the resources. But I don’t want to go at a socialist time here. But yeah, living here has made me question, why we can’t provide the basic necessities for people in the US. Why we’re taxed as much as some people here in Europe. But then we don’t have access to healthcare, we don’t have affordable education, we can’t house our people. We get fed this line that America’s the greatest democracy and we have the greatest economy. But where do we see that? We don’t see that. Here, people don’t make as much money. Their minimum wage is €1,200. But I seen maybe two people experiencing homelessness here.

Melyssa Barrett:  Wow.

Stephanie Fuentes:  Like I said, there’s almost no police presence. There’s public transportation that can take you anywhere and it’s really affordable. If I get sick, I have access to a doctor. So it really makes you think about are we the best? Or are we just a place that was also colonized? And we were just given the illusion that we were never colonized, and that we developed. But I don’t know it’s really made me think about where we are as a nation and who we really are, are we a developed nation? Or are we also a developing nation that just has the Gucci belt?

Melyssa Barrett:  Interesting. Well and I find it really interesting because you and your experience in your early 30s, I’m, let’s just say, a little older than that. But it’s so interesting to me because I know when I was 30, I wasn’t quite thinking the way you are now. And so I see so many folks in your age group that are… And I’m not saying they didn’t think that way, because a lot of people did. But I mean for me, it was getting into politics, and understanding your community, and all of that really has just come over the last maybe 15 years for me. Because I think sometimes you look up and it’s like, “Oh, I got a husband, and kids, and I’m doing this but I got to focus. And I just got to get to work and get home.”

But there’s all these other things that you start thinking about. And so for me, personally, I’m actually really encouraged by the generation, because information is coming so fast that you all are really having to make decisions much quicker than generations before. So it’s encouraging as an older person, to see our youth kind of thinking like that, for me. So I think that’s awesome.

Stephanie Fuentes:  Well first of all, thank you for referring to me as a youth.

Melyssa Barrett:  30 is a youth. Because I’m not 30.

Stephanie Fuentes:  Well, you like you’re in your 30s too.

Melyssa Barrett:  Bless your heart.

Stephanie Fuentes:  Thank you. For me, it’s been interesting. I think coming from migrant grandparents has always… It led me to be interested in development because I would always question, why would somebody want to leave their community, the place where they feel safe, where they have their ancestral ties, where they speak the language, to go to a place where they aren’t loved? I mean my parents are Mexican. And while we’re in a place where Spanish is spoken, you can find a Mexican restaurant in California anywhere. But at the national level, we’re villainized. We get told, there’s cartels, and they bring violence, and they’re bad men.

So I always wondered even since I was little, why would they leave their home? Why would people want to leave their home? And it’s not because they genuinely believe they live with love America more, it’s just because that’s where opportunity was. And it made me question, well why is this opportunity not offered in Mexico? Or why are places like Haiti, or Dominica Republicana, or Yemen, what about their systems failing that the people feel they need to leave? Whether it’s political violence, or lack of economic opportunity. How can we provide these countries with the tools that they need to develop in the way that they need to develop?

And since then that question, when I was a little girl, has left me to where I am now. And still trying to figure out ways in which we can empower communities to change and develop in the way that they want to, to not feel the need to leave their home to work. You have doctors working as farmers, which farm work is important. But I couldn’t imagine. I have an aunt, a psychologist, she was a psychologist in Mexico. And because of necessity, she works in Central Valley, California, being a farm worker. And she’s an educated woman. And I know, like I said, farm work is really important but we really have… It’s kind of sad that she had to leave her profession, something that she loved because she couldn’t make money, because she couldn’t afford, because many reasons where she had to disconnect from her home, to come somewhere else, to be vilified just because there was lack of opportunity or safety.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah, it’s interesting you mentioned that because I had a conversation with my mother who was from Panama. And it struck her, I think, with all of the events of January 6th. We were sitting here at the time, and what’s going on? And it actually triggered something for her when she was being raised in Panama. One of the reasons her mother wanted to leave, was because she remembered that type of resurrectionist activity happening in Panama. And seeing the blood that was draining down the street, because of the machetes that they used to use on people. And so it was interesting to me because I had never heard that story before. But it was one of the reasons that they immigrated to the United States. And then to see it happening in the United States for her was just like, “What is happening?” So it’s really interesting when you reference why people are doing that. But I’m sure there’s all sorts of reasons, but opportunities being the biggest.

Stephanie Fuentes:  Yeah. And I don’t know if it’s funny or ironic, maybe ironic now that there’s… I’m on TikTok. And there’s some parts of TikTok where you have… There are people in Mexico or Ecuador, countries that are traditionally, you see people immigrating from them to the US for opportunity. Or you having Americans now traveling to Mexico bringing gentrification because there’s no opportunity for them in the US now. And I find that so interesting that they’re bringing… They’re still in the way, just because hybrid, remote work now, and they’re coming to Mexico, or they’re coming to Argentina, Uruguay, Panama to live there because they can’t afford to live in the US. And it’s still kind of mind-boggling for me to think that, but now it’s reverse.

So people our age or younger having to move away from the US because they can’t afford housing, or they can’t afford to pay their bills, they have to move away from their families so that their wages that are being paid in the US, can last some more somewhere else, which we also see with the retired community. When I lived in Ecuador, there was a huge expat community in Huanca, from retirees that their social security was not enough to live back home so they had to live somewhere else.

Melyssa Barrett:  Interesting. So how many places have you been with this UN internship and all of this? You’ve been all over the place.

Stephanie Fuentes:  Well when lived in Ecuador, it’s actually when I was in the Peace Corps, I was an education volunteer, which was great. I got to experience another Latino culture, which is very different from my Mexican one. I learned another dialect of Spanish, which is great. And like I said, that’s where it got awoken to what development work really is and concepts like White saviorism. And not bringing my western perspective and expecting to change the world where people probably don’t even want me there. They want to change the world themselves for their own communities. So it really made me aware of my own ego, and my weaknesses, and I grew as a person now where I see development from a different point of view, more grassroots perspective.

Melyssa Barrett:  Well since you brought up the term, do you want to tell us about White saviorism?

Stephanie Fuentes:  Well it’s really the concept of Westerners and putting their own solutions into problems that they’ve probably caused, and telling people how they should develop or grow. And we see it’s pretty problematic because there’s this belief that as developed or global North nations, we’ve hindered the development of other countries and then we’re telling them, “Whoa, you’re really not growing the way that you should. You’re not modernizing the way that you should, this is what you should do.” So it’s creating the problem and then providing the solutions in our own terms. And White savior, thinks that they can come into any community and just solve all the problems from their own perspective without ignoring what the community actually wants or needs.

And I kind of saw that in Peace Corps. I remember the capital city of Ecuador is pretty modern. It’s pretty cosmopolitan. You have a lot of our international organizations, a lot of embassies. And I remember some volunteers being disappointed because they couldn’t see the poverty that they were coming to solve. And I remember we had done… They do, in the Peace Corps, what they call cultural trips. Where they take you to either an indigenous community or an Afro-Latino community, so that you learn that it’s not just mestizos, it’s not what you think a typical Latino looks like. There are Black Latinos, and there’s Latinos that are indigenous, and there’s Latinos that are Asian.

And I remember going to one of the coastal states where it’s mostly Af-Latinos. And a volunteer saying, “Oh this is what I came for. This is what I thought poverty would look like. I can work with this.” And I was so taken aback because I was like, “What do you mean this is what you came for?” She’s like, “Well this is what we thought acting as a volunteer.” When we came, she’s like, “You don’t see this.” And I was like… I’m still shocked to this day that she would say that this is what I came for to help and the poor people. And I was like, “Just not othering people and not seeing them as human beings. Getting poverty fetish, I think this is the term that people put on that. But yeah, that type of attitude’s pretty pervasive in some development circles. And it’s something that I try to avoid in my own work and in my own self, as I continue to move forward in this field.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah, some of those microaggressions that people don’t quite grasp. But the more we talk about it, the more people can perhaps get an understanding. At least we hope.

Stephanie Fuentes:  Yes, I sure hope so. I hope that person has reflected on that and move beyond that self.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah, but it’s interesting because, as you talk about it in all of these other sense of working in the Peace Corps, or at the UN. And then we think about working at a corporation and they have ERGs there, and microaggressions, and all of the things that you’re talking about happen on, whether it be on a macro scale or on a micro scale. So it’s really interesting when we think about diversity, equity, and inclusion, how many perspectives and just the broad nature of… That’s why on the Jali Podcast, I talk to so many different people about so many different things because there’s so many different ways to think about what we’re doing in the world, and just put DEI lens on it, you know what I mean?

Stephanie Fuentes:  Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  To make sure that we’re being intentional.

Stephanie Fuentes:  Yeah. I mean it really does manifest in a lot of different fields and similar in very different ways. I think back to where I work with right now, it’s so beautiful to see all the different types of nations that are represented. And even then the kind of politics it takes, to work in this intercultural space. My favorite part is in the morning in the elevator, because I will hear colleagues… Like I said, my department, I work in the Latino American Caribbean division. But within the floors we have the Asian and Pacific, we have African, we have Europe.

So as I’m going up to my 11th floor, I pass through all the different… I go up all the different floors on the elevator, I’ll hear French, and I’ll hear Yoruba, and I’ll hear Spanish, and I’ll hear Mandarin, and Japanese, and just all these different languages. And I really am enjoying working with all these different cultures. But even then, it’s just navigating, you have to really make sure that you’re respectful of people’s faces because we all have different perspectives of spaces. Latinos are typically like to be in your face that. But then some other cultures, that want more separation. The way that you greet people and the way that they want to be greeted. And it’s just difficult and beautiful. And sometimes you commit a lot of applause and you got to learn.

Melyssa Barrett:  You got to learn, that’s the thing. You just want people to be open to learning.

Stephanie Fuentes:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s the thing. So that’s awesome. So now tell us, I’ll ask you this last question about some of the things that you’re doing there at the UN. Because what’s interesting to me is, I think there’s so many people here, certainly, that are looking to increase and improve their own focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion because of the innovation and the perspectives that it delivers. And here you have the UN who literally has all of these nations sitting at the table doing all this wonderful work. What is it like?

Stephanie Fuentes:  It’s great. And it also comes with a lot of compromise here. The type of work that I do, I do program management work or I assist program management work. As I said, I’m an intern, so I get to do all the tasks that nobody else wants to do.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Stephanie Fuentes:  I do program design where countries have identified, for example, their needs and how we can help as a nuclear agency. So for example, in Costa Rica, we’re helping design a program that will monitor for severe drought conditions using isotope technology, which I still don’t completely understand, but I’m getting there. Nuclear science is really complex and I really admire women that go into those fields because, from what I’ve seen male dominated. Women are making their headway and I think the agency is doing really great in trying to recruit women from all corners of the world. But yeah, so I do program design, I do a lot of finance work, working with DHL and a lot of global freight forwarders to make sure that a member states have their equipment when they need it.

For example, the agency was in charge of making sure that during this pandemic, every member state, which is 198… I think we’re 130 something, I got to confirm that number. But we’ve made sure that every member state, even states that are not members of the agency got PCR kits so that they can detect COVID and treat it. So when I came in, it was already 2022 and we were still trying to make sure that some countries had their equipment delivered after two years.

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh, wow.

Stephanie Fuentes:  So I’ve gotten to talk to people in Senegal with my broken French. People in Singapore, and Malaysia, Panama as well, Cuba with my broken language skills, trying to communicate in English. And sometimes it’s really interesting, because level of English school, it’s lingua franca at the agency. Even though we have six recognized UN languages, we really, really operate in English. So sometimes it’s hard when you’re trying to talk about complex issues where there’s different levels of language skills. And I think that’s still a hurdle we can better overcome. Not sure how yet, but definitely something to keep in mind as we move forward in development, especially if we want to give ownership of the projects to local countries.

I’ve also done help with events. We had our general conference where every member state came to talk about what kind of solutions nuclear technology can give in the field. And there we talk to ambassadors, and ministers of science, and technology, and education. We do work with health. And we trying to find ways in which we can cure things like cancer, colon cancer, which is pretty treatable with radiotherapy, but not accessible to a lot of developing nations. So we want to make sure that they have proper access to healthcare. We want to make sure that we’re fighting child nutrition. So it’s really a lot of different projects that we do at the agency and it’s a lot of rewarding work. And like I said, I love that I do get to connect with people that have different stories to tell, that have different experiences, and that have a lot of knowledge to impart that maybe I might not have otherwise gotten in another field.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. No, that’s really interesting. I don’t know that I ever thought about the UN as a career opportunity. So I think there’s probably lots of people out there that maybe wouldn’t think of it either until you’re talking about it now. And there’s such a broad connection to doing, whether it’s technology, science, there’s so many different things that you all are doing, which is phenomenal.

Stephanie Fuentes:  Yeah, I’m sorry. Sorry.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Stephanie Fuentes:  And like I said, the UN is really in any topic that you can possibly think of, it’s probably involved with whether it’s providing more political empowerment for women, you have in women, if it’s child nutrition, you have UNICEF, if it’s education enrolled heritage, there’s UNESCO. We are also Interpol, which is the international police, which we talked about. That’s also the UN. IEA, like I said, with the UN, you have also programs that are very specific that deal in nuclear proliferation or arm proliferation, trying to prevent arms from spreading more. You have programs that try to preserve art. So any topic that you can think of is probably done by the UN and one of its agencies.

Melyssa Barrett:  Interesting, really interesting. That’s awesome. Well this is interesting. We could go on and on. I think we will have to continue the conversation because I can’t wait to see what else you’ll be doing over there. So now that I have a new friend over here, Steph, I’m going to call you and see how it’s going over there.

Stephanie Fuentes:  Yeah. And whenever you want to come over to Vienna, just let me know. I’d be happy to host you here.

Melyssa Barrett:  Look, don’t say it if you don’t want me to come. Because Vienna might be on my list.

Stephanie Fuentes:  Yes, yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s awesome.

Stephanie Fuentes:  Whenever you want.

Melyssa Barrett:  All right, well awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining me for this conversation. I absolutely love it. I love your background as well.

Stephanie Fuentes:  Thank you.

Melyssa Barrett:  Some of them won’t be able to see it, but you want to tell them what it is?

Stephanie Fuentes:  Yes, it’s the Shire. This is where Bilbo Baggins lives, Opado as well. And I love, Lord the Rings. I’m kind of a fantasy nerd.

Melyssa Barrett:  Kudos and shout out. Shout out to the Lord of the Rings fans.

Stephanie Fuentes:  These cool winter nights, this is where I want to be.

Melyssa Barrett:  No doubt. No doubt. Awesome. Well thank you so much and I look forward to more conversations. And thanks for joining me, Steph.

Stephanie Fuentes:  Thank you for having me.

Melyssa Barrett:  Thanks for joining me on the Jali Podcast. Please subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.