At the end of January 2023, Justin Powell, Executive Director of Youthlinc, had the opportunity to travel to Columbia to work with Maria and her team at Life Academy as part of a project they have been working on since the summer of 2022. They pitched their idea to the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) in a grant request in the fall and were approved to proceed with their project.
The aim of the project is not to open a Colombia as a traditional Service Year site but to actually set up the Service Year in Colombia for Maria‘s students to engage in similarly as our students in Utah do. That means that the students in Colombia will do local service in their own community and meet regularly to engage in and reflect on their community service efforts. They will also prepare to go on an international humanitarian trip, just like our Utah youth. The Colombian students plan to join up with the Perú July team this coming summer.
A lot goes into setting up the Service Year in another place! We must find students that are willing to do all of that work and raise the funds (Maria has already found a cohort!), we must build the reputation of Youthlinc in that community so that parents will trust us, we must begin establishing a donor base to support the students with the cost of international travel, we must find space that we can meet, plan, and prepare, we must find community placements for them to do local service in their own communities that are high-quality, hands-on, and is needed. That is all possible through the herculean efforts of Maria and her staff, especially Caro and Esperanza.
We look forward to piloting this program in Colombia, evaluating how it goes this year, and refining it year by year as we make the wonderful opportunities of the Service Year available to more students worldwide.
If you would like to contribute to the fund to help make the Service Year happen for the Colombian students, you can make a donation here! Justin has a goal to raise $5,000, Maria has a goal to raise $5,000, and each student in Colombia will also fundraise $500 toward their trips, too!
Some other highlights of Justin’s time in Colombia included:
- Working with the Life Academy team, especially Caro, who took care of a lot of the logistics for Justin while he was in the area, made his travel simple, easy, and enjoyable.
- Visiting Cartagena, a city on the north coast of the Caribbean Sea, where he toured the old city and a community called Palenque, which is one of the original communities of formerly enslaved Africans who gained their independence from the Spanish centuries ago. He learned that during the formerly-enslaved people’s quest for freedom, they would braid the maps of the forest into women’s hair so that their plans would go undetected by the Spanish.
- Visiting the US Embassy in Bogotá and meeting with Laura Cruz, who is super supportive of the goals that Youthlinc and Life Academy have to create even stronger ties between our two countries.
- Lastly, Justin was able to continue building a network of wonderful people so that in case Colombia becomes an option for an international destination for American Youthlinc students, we will be ready to make it happen!