Aideé Stephanie Jiménez Ávila knows what it’s like to be vulnerable, yet persevere. And she sees that vulnerability as an asset—a gift, even—that helps her connect with others facing hardships.
When Ávila was an infant in Mexico City, she developed a retinal cancer that required an expensive operation. Her parents spent everything they had on her care and were forced to move to a small town some 40 miles away where the cost of living was cheaper.
For nearly three years she rarely went outside her family’s three-room home because her parents thought it was too dangerous on the street. Often, she would sit at the window and watch the rain come down—those were bad years for flooding; it would close schools and inundate the roads—and ask herself why someone, some Good Samaritan or a 5-year-old’s conception of a federal government, wasn’t coming to help.
“Help is being provided,” she would hear on television. “But in my head, it was like, ‘Okay. But where is it?’”
Scroll ahead some 25 years, and Ávila, with seven years of international development experience behind her, is accepted into the Emergency & Disaster Management program at Georgetown University. But about the same time, she develops a severe spinal problem, as bone weakness can occur in young adults who had experienced her type of cancer as children. The condition was extremely painful, and for a while she couldn’t even walk. But later she was able to use a walker, and that’s what she had when she entered Georgetown in 2018.
She had wondered if she should reconsider her plans, but her doctor was adamant: “His words, were, ‘I need you to keep pursuing your dreams.’”
She told him, “you’re crazy.” But she listened and followed his advice.
Ávila has received support from her classmates, her professors, and the administration.
“I believe I’ve been very fortunate that, even while learning to live with a chronic condition, I received job offers from people who were aware of some of my limitations,” she says.
She graduated in 2019 and for the past three years has served as Resilience Policies Coordinator at the Secretariat of Integrated Risk Management and Civil Protection in Mexico City, where she works with stakeholders on disaster prevention. Recently she was among the women 35 years old and under named to Women of the Future: 50 Rising Stars in ESG by the UK organization, Women of the Future. In 2022, she traveled to St. Gallen, Switzerland, to be recognized by the group and join a conference with other nominees and global leaders in politics, science, and civil society.
Through the years, many people have believed in Ávila, and she has learned to believe in herself.
“I know that having a network of care and support is a significant privilege,” she says of the community at SCS. “But there’s an entire community of professionals who are interested in building a sense of community and teamwork during and after the program. In SCS, I recognized what ‘we got your back’ really means.”