Out of the Office and on the Ground

It is truly fulfilling to witness the impact that we have on the lives of those around us. Through these shared experiences, we create a ripple effect of influence. The Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) is a magnificent opportunity for young entrepreneurs from all over Latin America and the Caribbean to engage with one another and forge a network of partnerships within the United States and throughout the Americas.

Cesar Gallardo, Katherine Mitchell, U.S. Ambassador James D. Nealon, and Evan Kindle

However, the YLAI staff don’t always have the opportunity to see firsthand these great changes that occur as a result of this Fellowship. We can get bogged down by all of the logistical and programming aspects of the Fellowship and lose sight of the overall impact that this program has on the lives of our participants. That is why I was so grateful to have the opportunity to participate in two site visits for the YLAI Reverse Exchange in Tegucigalpa, Honduras and Bogota, Colombia.

Paula Porras and Gaia Klotz during one of their conflict resolution sessions

Every member of the YLAI Team knows the professional profiles of our Fellows, but actually getting to see what they do on the ground in their day-to-day cannot be fully captured in a brief bio in a program book. The opportunity to see what Cesar Gallardo, in Tegucigalpa, and Paula Porras, in Bogota, are doing for the youth of their communities was truly eye opening and inspirational. These two care so much about the young people of their community, and are doing so much for them through the work of their organizations, Dona Un Libro and Somos CaPAZes.

Katherine Mitchell leading a book mending class

Whether it’s constructing a safe place for young students to read or teaching them about conflict, communication, and collaboration, Cesar and Paula opened my eyes to the impact that we are all making together in their communities. I would never have been able to fully comprehend the work that they do if I hadn’t gotten the opportunity to visit them during their Reverse Exchanges. Some experiences you just can’t fully grasp unless you are living it! I felt the same way the first time I met the Fellowship Hosts participating in these Reverse Exchanges.

Watching Gaia Klotz and Katherine Mitchell come into these new environments and work together with their Fellows to implement these projects was truly spectacular. It was great to see how these partnerships had grown since their Fellowship in the U.S. and how they have been enhanced by their Reverse Exchange experiences. Both the Fellows and the Fellowship Hosts were able to share and combine ideas to create these great discussions and activities through their collaborative efforts. Observing both Fellows and Hosts working so fluidly together to create these great social projects was a truly rewarding experience.

Paula and Gaia at their Peace Labs Session

A few times during this experience, I had the opportunity to sit down with some of our other Fellows and listen to their stories about life after YLAI and speak about all the projects they are collaborating on together. When I heard the passion in their voices and the great ideas that they shared, I had a fleeting thought that I am not doing enough in my own life. I mentioned this to one of the Fellows and she laughed and said that the work that the YLAI Team does is what makes all of these connections possible. In that moment, I realized that we can’t allow ourselves to be so bogged down by our work that we forget to see the greater impact that we are all making together.

Through this program we are all able to create the change for future generations to come and I am grateful to be a part of it.