When it comes to finding inventive solutions to world challenges, one program brings forth a group of vibrant students that embody the optimism and drive needed to enact tomorrow's change by taking action today: Jóvenes en Acción (Youth in Action). Jóvenes en Acción is an intensive program that provides outstanding Mexican high school students with an innovative five-week exchange in the United States that develops leadership skills, fosters civic engagement, and supports students in creating service projects to implement in their communities. This year's 77 Jóvenes en Acción participants, representing 13 Mexican states from Baja California to Yucatán, prove that one of the most reliable forms of investment is the irreplaceable capital of youth. As the third group of students participating in the program, these ambitious high schoolers represent the biggest cohort yet, a positive sign that the success of this program is only growing.
On August 7, enthusiastic partners and advocates of the program met the group in Washington D.C. Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara D. Sonenshine, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs John Feeley, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Fabiola-Rodriguez Ciampoli, and Mexican Ambassador to the United States Arturo Sarukhán offered encouraging remarks to the students. These speakers showed their excitement about the future of the students, and expressed their pride in the progress of a program that has made valuable contributions to both American and Mexican society. Through participation in the Jóvenes program, the students have been able to take their unique ideas back to their communities and thus carry out critical change. The speakers also celebrated the students' role as cultural diplomats, citing their unparalleled ability to breakdown stereotypes and represent the rich diversity of Mexican society.
During the event I had the privilege of talking with these remarkable students. We chatted about things you might normally associate with high school students such as rock music, fútbol, and skateboarding; however, when they began talking about their community projects they resembled nothing like your average teen. The "Jóvenes" were eager to explain what they had worked so hard on. They had taken a deep look at the source of problems within their communities and provided creative solutions to transform these challenges into opportunities. Their impressive projects spanned a wide range of topics from preventing violence to reducing substance addiction. When given the chance, these resourceful teens spoke of themes that you might expect to hear from leading organizations in the fight against violence and drug abuse, such as reclaiming public space for the community and providing attractive alternatives to lives of crime for children most at risk.
As a student and member of the same generation, I admire the determination demonstrated by my international peers. Growing up in Los Angeles and the Southwest I experienced just how many aspects of U.S. and Mexican culture are proudly shared, as well as how many issues mutually affect our communities. At the event, I was reminded again of how much we had in common. What I found to be the most important similarity between us, however, was our eagerness to make a lasting impact within our communities.
After the Jóvenes concluded presentations about their service projects, it became clear to me why this event attracted so much enthusiasm. These emerging leaders are a source of hope for our shared future. This is the third year of the program, and each year it comes back stronger than ever. By taking note of the "power of proximity" and harnessing the power of youth, Jóvenes en Acción is a program that demonstrates that we can move forward and face our shared challenges. Action was the theme of this event, and with the continued work of these ambitious, young leaders their actions will become the change of tomorrow.