Construye tus Sueños (Build your Dreams)
The Construye tus Sueños (CTS) Youth Entrepreneurship Fair in 2017 was the culmination of many months of work by students, counterparts and Volunteers. In my community, the CTS curriculum was facilitated with about 55 students. Of those 55, ten students showed exceptional dedication, motivation, and excitement about their business plans and were selected to attend an entrepreneurship fair in Barranquilla in November. They spent many months preparing their three business plans - a traveling jewelry shop, a night tour guide company, and a tutoring business for locals and tourists alike. At times, the process was challenging, and the students had to push themselves to continue thinking creatively and altering their ideas when obstacles arose. In the days before the fair, one student told me she was too afraid to speak in public and wouldn't be attending. I sat with her for an hour practicing her speech, building up her confidence, and convincing her to attend.
On the night before the fair, I was nervous that students wouldn't show up for the 5 AM pick up of the van. I called them all, not once, but twice to confirm. "Si Seño, alli estaremos, no se precoupe Seño" (Yes teacher, don’t worry we’ll be there). And sure enough, there they all were, waiting eagerly, taking selfies in the sunrise light, joking around with the other teams about who would be the winner. I explained again, "jovenes, we are ALL winners!" They smirked and continued with their youthful banter. When we arrived at the hotel the excitement was palpable - the pool, the rooms, the space. But we still had work to do! We gathered the students and set them to work on their posters, gluing and cutting and arranging their business plan to make it look as presentable as possible.
Finally, the day we had all been working towards was here! The students buzzed about the hotel, setting up their table with their posters and prototypes. They listened to a set of guest speakers, participated in energizers to get to know the other students, and heard more about Peace Corps. After lunch, one student from each team "pitched" their idea to the room - some were nervous, some were confident, all did an amazing job. Rosa, one of the students from my site, pitched her idea, then came running to the back of the room and gave me a giant hug and asking me if she passed. I told her she knocked it out of the PARK! As the day went on, the excitement grew. PC Staff and other visitors meandered about the room, hearing about the students' ideas and the work they had put in. Students who had previously been quiet or reserved had to hold down the fort and speak to strangers about their ideas, and their confidence grew with each interaction. I wandered around, eavesdropping and holding back tears. I was so proud of the students and amazed at the excitement I saw before me. It was hands down the most moving experience I have had in Colombia to date - it made every challenge, sleepless night, mosquito bite attack, failed meeting, every frustration was worth it in that moment.
After the conference, the students created a Facebook group called "Emprendedores" to share their ideas and reflect on their experiences. Since the conference, many of the students have graduated, but I have seen visible changes in their attitudes and self-confidence, above all. The opportunity to push themselves, meet people from outside their pueblo, and interact with professionals was truly valuable to them. As a Volunteer, I am incredibly humbled by the experience and motivated to make it happen for many more Colombian youth.