Former Youth Ambassador Chronicles Involvement with Partners, Ten Years Later

By Lesly Zerna (Edited by Teri West)

Ten years ago I finished high school and went abroad for the first time as a Youth Ambassador (YA). Since then I have continuously been involved with Partners of the Americas and volunteer projects in my home country of Bolivia and throughout Latin America. Let me share my journey from the very beginning.​



I was selected to be a Youth Ambassador.

Partners of the Americas and the U.S. Department of State, in association with the Centro Boliviano Americano, were running the YA program in Bolivia for the first time. The program took 15 young Bolivians with two adults to the U.S. for two weeks.

We stayed in Washington D.C. for a couple of days to learn more about Partners and to meet other institutions that work with youth volunteerism. We also visited important monuments, museums, and universities. I loved learning about another culture and more about my own country as well through the other participants. It was also my first opportunity to practice English full-time. ​​

After D.C., my group was divided into three small teams. My team went to Utah to live with a host family, attend a high school, and volunteer.

I stayed with a lovely family in Provo, Utah. I attended a day at Provo High school with my host sister, went with my host family to a Sunday morning service at a Mormon church, and celebrated mother’s day.

Then, the whole team was reunited in D.C. where we shared our experiences and started planning a project that we could apply back in Bolivia. I still keep in touch with most of those YAs.



By 2008 we had two groups of YA Alumni in Bolivia.

All of the former Bolivian YAs held a meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia supported by the three Partners chapters in Bolivia, Centro Boliviano Americano, and Partners in D.C. By the end of that weekend, we decided to implement Raices Limpias, an environmental education project which began in 2009 and was executed in at least four cities in Bolivia. Students were trained in waste separation and the importance of keeping their schools clean. Later, these students trained their peers and classmates. The program also included a day for students, parents, and neighbors to clean up their schools.



First ever Youth Ambassadors Summit.

It was amazing to be part of the Bolivian team to attend the Youth Ambassadors summit in Panama with former YAs from all over Latin America. The summit resulted in the International Youth Ambassadors Network (IYAN). Its main mission is to connect YAs and youth leaders in the western hemisphere. I started working with a YA from Colombia to develop the IYAN web page and content for the blog.



IYAN at the 2nd World Summit for Youth Volunteering.

In 2011 I attended the 2nd World Summit for Youth Volunteering in Barranquilla, Colombia where I met other enthusiastic volunteers and shared knowledge and experiences. We presented IYAN in a workshop called "Building youth leaders and volunteer networks." The main outcome of the summit was RED2021, a digital platform that unites youth and motivates them to keep serving and getting others involved.​

There are so many more stories to share, and incredibly every year we have something going on. I want to thank all of the people who encouraged me throughout this process, starting from the very beginning with my application to be a YA. Each event has a big story behind it and there are so many things in between such as projects, trips, and exchanges.