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Christian Union
November 9, 2016

Knaus '17 Has a Heart for Refugees

by Catherine Elvy, Staff Writer

aimee-knaus2A University of Pennsylvania upperclassman is using her international upbringing, fluency in Arabic, and passion for supporting the vulnerable to aid an influx of refugees arriving in Philadelphia.

"I want to make a difference by helping people, so they can see God's love through me, especially with their tangible, practical needs," said Aimee Knaus '17, who grew up with her American family in Jordan and the Togolese Republic.

"God definitely set me up for it. God has me at Penn for a reason."

At Penn, Knaus serves on the student executive team for Christian Union's leadership development ministry.

To lay the groundwork for a career with international, non-government organizations, Knaus is serving as a resettlement intern for the Nationalities Service Center, which assists immigrants and evacuees in the Greater Philadelphia area.

During her internship, Knaus collaborates with case managers on a variety of tasks, including helping recent arrivals apply for welfare and related matters and assisting them with myriad practical chores involved with setting up households.

In what has been labeled the greatest refugee crisis since World War II, about 5 million Syrians have fled their homeland and about 6.6 million have become displaced internally since civil war broke out in 2011. In response, President Barack Obama set a goal of allowing 10,000 refugees into the United States.

Despite encountering innumerable bureaucratic hassles, many of the newcomers to Philadelphia maintain positive attitudes. "Each day, I feel like I'm learning something. Some of the families have so much patience, optimism, and hope," said Knaus. "They see this as a new opportunity. They are so excited. It changes my perspective."

Every year, the Nationalities Service Center helps 5,300-plus men, women, and children from more than 100 countries adapt to the Philadelphia region by offering them assistance with legal, resettlement, health, and other practical matters.

As for Knaus, the international studies and business management major envisions herself working abroad on humanitarian causes. After enrolling at Penn, Knaus was struck by how the principles at the core of Christianity point to concrete service on behalf of widows, orphans, and the disadvantaged.

Likewise, Knaus, who attended Ahliyyah School for Girls in Jordan, noted her fluency in Arabic is useful as she tutors new settlers in the fundamentals of English. Her parents also served as English instructors while abroad, and her father even worked as a Bible translator.

Knaus has taught English as a second language since high school, when she also began volunteering to aid the Syrian refugees pouring into her region. She continued such efforts during breaks in her underclassman years.

In addition to Knaus' involvement with Christian Union's ministry at Penn, other activities include the Wharton Middle East North Africa organization, Penn Arab Student Society, and Amnesty International. During summer 2015, Knaus led a group of undergrads on a venture to Jordan via Penn International Impact Consultants for Generations for Peace.

As for her ever-expanding résumé and heart for exiles, Knaus praised the mentoring she has received via Christian Union's ministry at Penn in helping to shape some of her professional aspirations. "I'm always looking for ways to grow as a leader," said Knaus.

Christian Union's director of undergraduate ministry at Penn noted Knaus has distinguished herself from her peers by her pronounced concern for foreigners, especially asylum-seekers.

"Because she grew up abroad, she is comfortable in the world of internationals," said Justin Mills, Penn '05. "She's seen the plight of people who have been oppressed. She has spent a lot of time in Syrian refugee camps, playing with the kids and experiencing their humanity."

Likewise, given her background growing up as a Christian in a largely Muslim region, Knaus is comfortable interacting in a variety of ethnic settings.
"She is well-positioned to influence," said Mills.

In addition to serving as a student leader with Christian Union's ministry at Penn, attending regular prayer gatherings, and helping with the worship team, Knaus has made it a point to help disciple some of the organization's female students and bolster their sense of community. "She is very outreach oriented," Mills said. "Quite a few of the women look up to her."

In the summer of 2015, Knaus participated in Christian Union's Lake George School of Christian Thought in Upstate New York, which blends community living with vigorous intellectual discussion.

"She showed a lot of leadership with the logistical elements of the course, and her cross-cultural background enabled her to provide much insight into our discussions," said Jesse Peterson, a Christian Union ministry fellow.

As for her long-term goals, Knaus simply wants to use her skills and abilities to benefit needy people around the world.

Such aspirations also help fulfill Knaus' adventurous nature. "I like to be always on the move," she said.
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