Colombian #PartnersYouth share experiences as 2014 Youth Ambassadors to Central Florida

Edited and Published by: Pamela Picon, Intern, Partners of the Americas
Foreword by: Abraham Cisne, Senior Program Officer, Youth Engagement

Partners is proud to highlight that last year´s Youth Ambassadors (YA) program funded by the U.S. State Department was an enormous success, including challenging innovations and involving Partners chapters that haven´t hosted in a long time. The 2014 YA program involved 45 very competitively selected participants from both Venezuela and Colombia who, after a week in Washington, DC, were hosted in three states: Arkansas, Tennessee and Florida. Youth participants ages 15-17 were selected through a process that considered merit, limited income and no previous travel abroad. The program focused on leadership, service/volunteerism, mutual understanding, and long-term engagement. Its sub themes included the environment and public safety.

Before 2014, Partners had not implemented Youth Ambassadors in Colombia for several years, so we were very excited to start anew and better engage with Colombian chapters in the process. Partners was also given the opportunity to be the first YA program implementer to involve youth participants with deafness from Venezuela who also traveled with the Colombian delegation. Our preliminary feedback indicates that these opportunities were very successful.

Partners chapter leaders in these host communities worked tirelessly donating their time, networks and expertise to really make this an unforgettable and life-altering experience for the program participants. Their efforts included recruiting 38 host families of which few had previous experience with Partners. Additionally, chapter leaders involved 53 organizations, universities, schools, businesses and public institutions that supported the program with workshops, insider tours, and other educational activities.

Led by chapter member and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer John Schoch, the Florida YA program welcomed 13 participants from across Colombia. While in Florida, the students participated in visits and interactive sessions in universities and high schools, guided tours through various marine, waterway and wildlife sanctuaries, volunteering with locals, and various cultural activities. 

Highlights included a volunteering session on the Rose Bay Project where participants were trained on bird, plant, and animal identification as well as water testing with a local expert. Additionally, participants were allowed the very unique opportunity to visit, present and interact with detainees at the local Volusia County Juvenile Detention Center. Florida Partners volunteer and Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, Dr. Sue Mahan, arranged for the YA participants to have special access after years of service at the center. Participants also were provided guided tours of local historical landmarks such as St. Augustine and Cape Canaveral.

While designing, managing, and coordinating important aspects of the program from Washington, DC, the Youth Engagement unit of Partners would like to recognize that without the Partners hosting chapters, this program would not be the culturally authentic, service-leadership rich, and fun experience that has and will motivate youth to lead positive change in their communities. We want to thank all of those involved in the Florida chapter and the host families that may not be mentioned in this blog but merit the recognition.

Below are some quotes from the participants we hope convey how much the Youth Ambassadors experience means to them: 

“To the people that ask me what was the highlight of my trip, I tell them three basic things. The first of these is that my trip was not only touristic, but it allowed me to learn about places and people, from foundations that help the community to Universal Studios. Secondly, I met wonderful people full of unique valors and qualities that one way or another helped me grown as a person. The last of these beautiful experiences was that I was able to leave the best image of my country and I feel very proud to live in the beautiful Colombia.”

“…I learned that the most important characteristic of a leader is creativity, or in other words the capacity to propose and create different things. We were talking with two people online about the importance of social networks and how they can be very useful in our journey as leaders.”

“Las personas que me preguntan qué fue lo mejor de mi viaje, les respondo tres cosas básicas. La primera de ellas que mi viaje no fue tan solo turístico que me permitió aprender de lugares y personas, desde fundaciones que ayudan a la comunidad hasta Universal Estudios. La segunda experiencia es que conocí personas maravillosas llenas de valores y cualidades inigualables que de una u otra forma me ayudaron a crecer como persona. La última de estas hermosas experiencias es que pude dejar la mejor imagen de mi país y me siento muy orgullosa de vivir en la hermosa Colombia.”

“…aprendí que la característica más importante de un líder es la creatividad, es decir la capacidad que tiene para proponer y crear cosas diferentes. Estuvimos en charlas con dos personas vía online hablando de la importancia de las redes sociales y como estas nos puedes ser muy útiles en nuestro camino como líderes.” - Natalia Bernal

“Another great experience was when we went to Marineland. In that moment, as I talked to our guide, I learned that he plays soccer and I told him that I also play. So then we got a ball and started playing on the beach. It ended with some foot injuries, but it didn’t matter because we won the game and I had fun playing. At the end of the game the guide gave me the ball, making it an object that I greatly appreciate.”

“Otra gran experiencia fue cuando fuimos a Marineland. En ese momento, conversando con nuestro guía, aprendi que el jugaba Soccer y yo le comente que yo tambien jugaba. Entonces sacamos un balon y nos pusimos a jugar en la playa, termino con algunas heridas en los pies pero no importa ya que ganamos ese partido y me diverti mucho jugando. Al final del juego el me regalo el balon, y hoy en dia es un objeto que aprecio mucho.” - Diego Santana

“In the afternoon we went to the Juvenile Detention Center of Volusia, which is like a jail for juveniles. We saw the facilities, interacted with the guards and female inmates, since the male inmates were already put away…”

"En la tarde, fuimos al centro de detención juvenil de Volusia, que era como una cárcel juvenil. Conocimos las instalaciones e interactuamos con guardias y las reclusas mujeres, ya que los hombres estaban encerrados...”  Luisa Mariana Castaño

“Living with a host family was the beginning of another great experience. I learned a lot from my host dad, Mr. Tom McPherson, and my host mom, Mrs. Barbara McPherson, and my host brother Paul. They all taught me many interesting things about Chinese and American culture. Paul, in particular has become my new best friend. I learned a lot from him and I hope that someday he can visit Colombia.”

“Viviendo con una familia anfitriona fue el comienzo de otra gran experiencia. Aprendi mucho de mi papá anfitrión, Tom Mcpherson, mi mamá anfitriona, Mrs. Barabara McPherson, y mi hermano anfitrión Paul. Me enseñaron muchas cosas interesantes de la cultura China y Americana. Paul, en particular, se ha convertido en mi nuevo major amigo. Aprendi mucho de el y espero que algun dia puede visitor Colombia.” - Adrian Sanchez

“One of the things I liked most was when we went to the elementary schools of Blue Lake. It was interesting because it was something totally different from what we had done. We explained to children, who were just starting schooling, what Colombia is and we learned what they thought about my country. I was surprised by two children who asked me, "What tribe do you come from?" and "In your country are there electronic devices like cell phones, tablets and computers?” I didn’t feel bad, quite the opposite, I felt good because at that moment I knew I would be able to change the way these two children thought and they then could pass it on to their families. I felt I was doing my job as a Youth Ambassador.”

“Una de las cosas que más me gustó fue ir a las escuelas primarias de Blue Lake. Fue interesante porque fue algo totalmente diferente a todo lo que hicimos. Le explicamos a los niños, que apenas están iniciando su camino escolar, lo que es Colombia y aprendimos lo que ellos pensaban sobre mi país. Me sorprendieron dos niños que me preguntaron, "¿De qué tribu provienen?" y "¿En su país hay dispositivos electrónicos como celulares, tablets, computadores?" Esas preguntas no me hicieron sentir mal, por el contrario, me sentí bien porque en ese momento supe que podía hacer que dos niños cambiaran su manera de pensar acerca de Colombia y esa enseñanza se podía replicar a sus familias. Sentí que estaba cumpliendo mi trabajo como Joven Embajador.” - Javier Alejandro Alvarez