By Melissa Trinley, Short-term ESL and American Culture Program Manager

This summer, CCI Greenheart had the honor of working with an extraordinary group of young adults from Mexico because our organization was chosen to be one of the sub-grant recipients of the Jóvenes en Acción program. The program is a partnership among the Department of State’s U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, U.S. community partners and World Learning. Mexican high school students ages 15-18 travel to the United States for a five-week leadership educational exchange program. For two weeks of the program students break into separate community programs based on themes. In Raleigh, CCI Greenheart led Youth Leadership programming for a group of 14 students. Prior to being accepted to the program the students formed teams, each with their own community service project idea. Students from Nuevo Laredo developed a project with an aim to provide a space for young people to speak up through creative means instead of through violence or bullying. The group from Penjamo is working to help children be able to stay in school instead of having to work as street vendors by providing alternative means to earn money through after-school art projects. The third group from Pachuca De Soto intends to decrease social disintegration by creating a safe environment for youth to express their ideas freely and create a sense of citizenship among Mexican youth. Jóvenes en Acción takes a unique approach to programming in that the students receive support for their projects for an entire year to help insure the students have the resources necessary to successfully implement their projects.

CCI Greenheart’s Local Coordinator, James di Carlo, in collaboration with the Short-term ESL and American Culture department formed partnerships with local non-profit organizations which lead interactive workshops with the group. Each workshop was specifically designed to teach the students useful skills in order to prepare them to begin their projects upon their return home. The majority of the program took place at Wake Young Youth Leadership Academy (WYWLA).  Students went canoeing with Raleigh Police Department officers and as a means to learn ways police officers help local communities; it also served as a team building activity. Other partners included the Wake County Environmental Services, which taught students best practices of recycling and how to create similar projects at home. Student Action with Farmworkers brought former migrant youth workers to speak about Mexican immigration to the US and child labor and how to help combat child labor on both sides of the border. The discussion was framed around a mural depicting current labor situations and dreams for better lives in the future. This non-profit also helped the students learn how to use art as a vehicle for change.

Jovenes student pose with mural created by Student Action with Farmworkers

Jovenes student pose with mural created by Student Action with Farmworkers

Because the program was held at US high school CCI Greenheart Jóvenes students were able to interact with US youth. The Jóvenes program made an impact on both the exchange students and their hosts. Some Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy students reflected on their experience with their guests.

10th grader and Jóvenes volunteer Olivia commented, “We did many team building activities to bring us closer together. By the end of our time together we had forgotten we had just met and we were all really great friends. They helped me to see new ways to help our community and school. I loved getting to meet teens our age that are from a totally different surrounding and upbringing. It showed me that even though we don’t live in the same place, we are still all teenagers who have a vision to make the world a better place and also love to laugh, have fun, and just be kids. I will never forget the week and the people I got to spend it with. I am so grateful that I got to have this experience.”

According to 10th grader and Jóvenes volunteer, Natalie, “It was an amazing opportunity to work with Jóvenes. I learned so much about the students and about their culture, food, and family. We also shared similar problems in our communities and its stereotyping. We all became like one big family in the little time that they were here. We would work together with group activities and on their projects and still have fun; it was cool that we were able to do things outside the classroom, too. They also helped me on my Spanish, and in return I helped them with their English. Also, being lucky enough to host an exchange student was amazing; it was really cool to see how our cultures were similar and different. Working with Jóvenes was a great experience. Friendship building exercises were fun and brought us closer together. Even if you don’t speak the same language perfectly that doesn’t mean you can’t make great friendships.”

As a thank you to the high school the group chose to do a Greenheart Volunteer Project to beautify the campus. The campus garden now includes flowers native to Mexico which will serve as a reminder to the students of WYWLA of their friends from Latin America. CCI Greenheart is thankful to everyone who was involved in the program in North Carolina for helping us meet the program’s goals of promoting mutual understanding between the people of the US and Mexico, helping with the development of individual service projects for students to implement upon their return home, and preparing youth leaders to become responsible citizens and contributing members of their communities.

For more information about Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy’s experience with the Jóvenes en Acción students read more on their website: http://girls.wakeacademy.org/international-experiences.html

For more information about the entire Jóvenes en Acción program as described by the participants read the World Learning blog (content is written in Spanish): http://blogs.worldlearning.org/jovenesenaccion/